Liam Neeson takes his particular set of skills to late 1930s Los Angles in Marlowe from Open Road Films. Two Academy Award winners are behind the scenes, with Neil Jordan directing and William Monahan penning the screenplay. The latter adapts the 2014 novel The Black-Eyed Blonde by John Banville.
Philip Marlowe (Neeson), a brooding, down-on-his-luck detective, is hired by glamorous heiress Clare Cavendish (Diane Kruger), who is the daughter of famous movie star Dorothy Cavendish (Jessica Lange), to track down Clare's ex-lover. As a result of the disappearance, the series of bizarre events takes a bewildering turn. Marlowe finds himself amid a deadly investigation and a web of lies that he is determined to expose before it's too late. Touted as a noir crime thriller, Marlowe is set in late 1930s Bay City and takes place in this fascinating city.
Firstly, let's look at a brief history of the fictional character Philip Marlowe, whom Raymond Chandler created in the 1920s. Hardboiled crime fiction, which originated in the 1920s, was dominated by the character of Marlowe, who was a crucial player in the genre. As a character, Marlowe first appeared in the 1939 novel The Big Sleep.
On-screen, Marlowe has seen portrayals by legendary actors such as Robert Mitchum, Humphery Bogart, James Caan, and James Garner. My introduction to the character came from James Garner's take on the character in 1969's Marlowe. However, I only watched to glimpse a young Bruce Lee who had a small role.
The movie opens with Marlowe looking out his office window near Cahuenga and Hollywood. In straightforward and thoughtful prose, he establishes the setting and the mood, noting that "it was one of those Tuesday afternoons in summer when you wonder if the earth has stopped revolving.
Philip Marlowe conveys the loneliness and bleak setting through offbeat observations when he gets a surprise visit from an attractive woman. The loneliness and bleak setting change briefly when Marlowe receives a visitor. Mrs. Clare Cavendish asks Marlowe to locate Nico Peterson, a movie agent who disappeared two months ago. She wants to hire him.
Marlowe gets to know Clare Cavendish throughout the film. It dawns on Marlowe that something is wrong when Clare tells him that she saw Peterson last week and knows that he had been killed months earlier. Viewing the scene of Peterson's death at the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office, he meets with a friendly cop to discuss the case. He suspects he is being watched because everyone knows he is working on the case.
As a fan of Neeson and old Hollywood, I was open to giving the film a chance. Sadly the pace is at a snail's pace, and I had no interest in any of the characters. I will give credit to Jessica Lange, who has always been an excellent actress. I realized, however, that Nesson was a miscast as the film progressed. While Nesson still looks ageless when he brandishes a weapon or engages in fisticuffs. Added insult to injury is paycheck performances from the usually reliable Alan Cummings and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.
No matter how hard the director, writer, and star try, the film is a weak attempt at the film noir genre.
Final Grade: D+
Marlowe opens in theaters on Wednesday, February 15th