Film noirs should rope you in almost from the get-go. The mystery, the hero, the femme fatale, everything should come together in short order. Marlowe, an updated take on the classic Raymond Chandler character, seems to forget this, opting for a muted feeling. The film has the look and pulpiness down pat, but the feel just isn’t there. So, while the movie has classic elements, it never coalesces into anything fully satisfying.
Marlowe wants to be the next great noir, and while it putters along decently enough, it never kicks into a gear that lets the flick really grab you. Now, it’s never boring, but there’s always a sense that something more compelling is being left on the table. Considering some of the talent involved, it just makes for a real missed opportunity to have done a lot more.
A private detective, Philip Marlowe (Liam Neeson) suspects more than meets the eye when Clare Cavendish (Diane Kruger) walks into his office and wants to hire him. An heiress and daughter of former movie star Dorothy Cavendish (Jessica Lange), Clare wants Marlowe to find her missing lover. Did Clare’s husband have him rubbed out? Marlowe wonders that, but in short order, he realizes that this case is going to be full of twists and turns.
Going deeper down the rabbit hole, Marlowe wanders 1930s Bay City, getting wrapped up in the works of a movie studio, a club run by the dangerous Floyd Hanson (Danny Huston), and consistently getting himself into trouble. The more he digs, the darker and more ominous things get. After all, this is a film noir, isn’t it?
Liam Neeson can’t fully avoid kicking some ass here and there in this flick, but by and large this is more detective than action hero. It’s a good choice for Neeson, though he doesn’t appear fully engaged by the material. Most of the cast vacillate between being amused by the hard boiled dialogue and bored by it, but Neeson is in basically every scene, so you notice it the most. Jessica Lange is having the most fun, while Danny Huston and Diane Kruger are walking on well worn ground in their own careers. Supporting players include Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, François Arnaud, Alan Cumming, Ian Hart, Colm Meaney, Daniela Melchior, and more.
Director Neil Jordan is a talented filmmaker, as is writer William Monahan, but neither is at their best here. Jordan seems keener on the look of the film than anything else, resulting in slack pacing and a cast that’s not fully buying in. Monahan, in a similar fashion, is all about the pulpy dialogue, as opposed to making sure the plot connects well. At a certain point, you can tell something is missing.
Marlowe has its moments, but there’s just not quite enough. The pieces are there, with Neeson making a solid Philip Marlowe, but nothing fits snugly enough together. As soon as it ends, the events erase from your memory, which is not how a noir should be. There are far worse things in theaters, but to be sure, there are better options out there, too.