February 15, 2023 / VVS Films
Starring: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange, Danny Houston
Directed By: Neil Jordan
MARLOWE, a gripping noir crime thriller set in late 1930’s Los Angeles, centers around a street-wise, down on his luck detective; Philip Marlowe, played by Liam Neeson, who is hired to find the ex-lover of a glamorous heiress (Diane Kruger), daughter of a well-known movie star (Jessica Lange). The disappearance unearths a web of lies, and soon Marlowe is involved in a dangerous, deadly investigation where everyone involved has something to hide.
Written By Darren
Rating 1 out of 5
Marlowe tries to emulate the classic noirs that used to be prevalent in Hollywood with the classic Hollywood setting, but a weak story and uninspired performances make this film one of the weakest of the year so far.
Liam Neeson has been starring largely in action films since Taken was released, not allowing his full range as an actor to be on display. So when I first saw the trailer for Marlowe, giving Neeson another genre to flex his acting abilities in that does not require him to have that “specific set of skills,” I was excited. And with a supporting cast of Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange, Danny Huston, Alan Cumming and Daniela Melchior, this film was primed to be an entertaining watch. However, the film gets off to a rocky start which is never corrected, instead resulting in a film I struggled to finish.
Set during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the film follows Phillip Marlowe, a private detective hired by Clare Cavendish to find her ex-lover, Nico Peterson, who is missing but presumed dead. However as Marlowe begins poking around Los Angeles inquiring about Nico, he quickly discovers that Nico is just a piece of the puzzle in a far larger conspiracy that will stop at nothing from letting Marlowe uncover the truth as to what is happening behind the scenes in Hollywood.
Phillip Marlowe is a literary character that has been brought to life by many actors, including the likes of Danny Glover, James Caan, Humphrey Bogart and Jason O’Mara. This character has stood the test of time, but this iteration of the character does not provide any insight as to why. This screenplay, based upon the recent novel by John Banville, is your basic noir mystery. There is nothing shocking or remotely revolutionary, or if I’m being frank, even entertaining about this film. We follow Marlowe on his most recent cast, meeting a cast of characters along the way. The production and costume design is good, bringing to life 1930s Los Angeles on screen as Marlowe traverses many locations throughout the story, which helps create the world of the film.
By the end of the film, it ties all the characters and various subplots together for a larger conspiracy, but it comes out of nowhere. And not even in a good way. Most films you know that something larger is going on before learning exactly what it is, but this film consistently buries the lead and fails to stimulate any excitement as to where the plot is going. It was to such an extent that I was consistently bored during the film, hoping it would either get moving with an interesting plot thread or end already.
Not helping the situation is the majority of the film’s performances. Neeson gives his usual lifeless performance that works well in the action thrillers that he has starred in recently. While that works in films where he is required to have a certain set of skills and beat bad guys to a pulp, the character of Marlowe requires more intelligence and logical deduction than Neeson brings to the role. It’s an unfortunate scenario where the performance misses the mark and ultimately sinks the film as the screenplay is very dependent on the lead performance being the focal point of the film. And for the most part, the supporting cast fails to rise to the occasion too, failing to bring to life interesting supporting characters to help build the mystery of the film, which is disappointing given the talent on camera.
The saving grace of the film is Jessica Lange, delivering the best performance of the film. While she only has a handful of scenes, the second that Lange appears on camera that film comes to life. She gives a riveting performance as Dorothy Cavendish, Clare’s mother, chewing up each line of dialogue and being the life that the rest of this film needed to entertain. Lange has been in Hollywood since the 70s, and she shows no sign of stopping giving sensational performances decades later. It is just too bad she maybe has seven minutes of screen time as the film overall needed a lot more Lange to make it tolerable.
While the noir genre is a genre that I truly appreciate given the plots and memorable detectives you meet in such films, Marlowe fails to rise to the occasion. Liam Neeson is truly miscast as Phillip Marlowe plus a collection of lackluster supporting performances and a story that fails to generate excitement or tension, not even screen legend Jessica Lange can salvage this film.