Dir: Neil Jordan | Cast: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Colm Meaney, Daniela Melchior, Alan Cumming, Danny Huston, Seana Kerslake, Francois Arnaud, Ian Hart | Noir thriller, 95′
Liam Neeson stars as Marlowe in this often vicious noir thriller that transports us back to late 1930s Bay City, California with vague echoes of Polanski’s Chinatown, but there the similarity ends.
Raymond Chandler’s classic character Marlowe was most successfully evoked by the craggy-faced icon Robert Mitchum in Farewell, My Lovely (1974) but Neeson adds a certain warm soulfulness to the role as the private detective based on the book by John Banville.
In the capable hands of Neil Jordan’s direction Marlowe certainly looks decent and boasts a strong international cast and some witty dialogue but too many characters and subplots overload a story that loses its way in the complexity of it all. Essentially Marlowe boils down to a series of starry vignettes held together by a circuitous storyline, written for the screen by William Monahan.
Philip Marlowe is looking into a missing persons ‘cold’ – or rather – tepid case involving a certain Hollywood film exec Nico Peterson (Arnaud) who has slipped away from his married lover’s embrace, a hard-edged blonde called Clare Cavendish (Kruger tries – and fails – to channel Dunaway) who is keen on Marlowe keeping her amused while she employs him to track down the much younger man who is normally between her sheets.
Neeson gets some good lines in the witty and often virtue-signalling dialogues: “Is your husband a homo”.? he asks Clare: “No he’s not remotely that interesting”. But there’s no gay twist here just an old-fashioned story of jealous women and men chasing the dollar. Fedora in place, Marlowe makes his rounds in the area and this brings in some car chase scenes and leads to an upmarket private establishment called the Corbeta club where louche lounge lizards and moneyed widows wile away the warm evenings in what is actually Barcelona rather than the US West Coast.
Here he comes across Clare’s mother, a charismatic blonde called Dorothy Quincannon (Lange oozes style unlike her spiteful daughter) who claims to have seen Peterson despite reports of him fetching up dead, the victim of a ‘hit and run’. But Hollywood studio head Floyd Hanson, played by Danny Huston (whose stock in trade nowadays is playing debonair gentlemen of questionable intent) is keen to quash the rumour, and will go to violent lengths to keep Peterson’s disappearance a mystery. Huston is really effective as the suave but saturnine film exec, his father John was even more memorable in Chinatown.
Other characters woven into the convoluted narrative add padding but feel entirely irrelevant. There is Alan Cummings’ mean and seedy nightclub owner who has dealings in Mexico, and police detectives Colm Meaney and Ian Hart. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje adds ballast as a uniformed chauffeur who gives Marlowe back-up when he needs it. Marlowe looks authentic with its swaying palm trees, sleek automobiles and elegant costumes but somehow never grips or moves us despite being enjoyable while it lasts. MT
NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE | US and other territories.