Marlowe Synopsis: As bad business and loneliness are taking their toll on private detective Philip Marlowe (Liam Neeson), a beautiful blonde arrives and asks him to find her ex-lover, which proves to be just a small part of a bigger mystery.
Famed private detective Philip Marlowe returns to the silver screen in Marlowe.
It would not be the year’s initial months without the presence of a new Liam Neeson genre vehicle. The surprise success of 2009’s Taken has spawned a decade-plus onslaught of action vehicles for Neeson. Many of them, such as The Grey, Run All Night, and Non-Stop, offer assured thrill rides bolstered by the undeniable presence of Neeson and his hard-edged persona.
After years of prosperous offerings, Neeson is now stuck producing dwindling results. Honest Thief, The Marksman, and 2022’s Blacklight all provided beige and aggressively forgettable experiences that sleepwalked their way in and out of theaters. What once represented a source of creative vitality for Neeson has gradually become a hackneyed ruse for studios to milk money out of the actor’s former glory days.
I possessed hope that Marlowe could reignite my interest in Neeson-led vehicles. Based on author Raymond Chandler’s famed noir series, the film attempts to capture the alluring atmosphere of the 1940s/1950s period classics – a noble gesture considering the genre has evaporated from mainstream cinemas. Instead, this reboot of Marlowe is a voiceless and apathetic charade of noir sensibilities.
So much of Marlowe feels like an enigma, but not in the compelling way one would expect a mysterious yarn to be. The film is more of an unknown to itself, drawing a filmgoing experience that vies for a familiar yet treasured cinematic sensibility before missing the mark completely.
Marlowe’s failures are even more bewildering when considering the vast talent on display. Interview with a Vampire director Neil Jordan is a stalwart craftsman whose work is often sumptuous in its visceral style and captivating mood. With Marlowe, Jordan’s talents feel constricted at every turn. The director crafts a flat aesthetic vacant of any vibrant noir flourishes. The drab lighting, murky, one-note color grading, and unconvincing sets give the impression of a makeshift production lacking a lived-in sense of place (the film is set in Los Angeles but was mostly shot in Dublin and Spain). Mood and setting are critical pillars of noir storytelling, which makes settling on a lifeless, straight-to-VOD visual profile a notable disservice to Marlowe’s beloved genre ancestors.
Oscar-winning screenwriter William Monahan is similarly out of his depth. Monahan’s penchant for modern true crime narratives does not translate well within the confines of a more reserved approach. Old-school noirs often excelled in their ambiguity, with characters dispensing cunning dialogue exchanges and cloaking their inner thoughts under shadowy pretenses. Unfortunately, Monahan’s attempts at revitalizing this distinctive style draw stagnant results. Character spout exposition jargon throughout, but none of these exchanges work to build intriguing characters or narrative momentum. Much of the story feels like it’s simply treading water before reaching an uneventful and predictable final act conclusion.
Not even a skilled cast can draw life into flatlining material. As hardened detective Philip Marlowe, Neeson looks indifferent throughout the production. His competent yet simplistic tough guy act never draws much nuance or perspective into the famed detective. Moreover, the lack of personality Neeson imbues makes his performance feel like a middling imitation of what other skilled actors have already achieved with the character (Elliot Gould and Humphrey Bogart previously played Marlowe). Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange, and Alan Cumming add some professionalism to the mix, but the trio is given little opportunity to elevate the proceedings.
During an incompetently staged action scene, Marlowe mutters that “he’s getting too old for this.” It’s a tired cliche that perfectly illustrates the uninspired results Marlowe brings to the table.
Neeson’s best action movies showcased a sincere appreciation for various subgenres, whether it’s the campy B-movie thrills present in The Commuter or the page-turning intrigue of The Unknown. Now, films like Marlowe just read like a shell of the genre pastiche they half-heartedly try to mirror.
Marlowe is now playing in theaters.