Philip Marlowe, the noir detective creation of Raymond Chandler, once again gets a revival, this time thanks to director Neil Jordan, with Liam Neeson embodying the powerful, brooding hero. One of the most revered in the genre, the character of Marlowe has defined the private eye archetype forever. Previous incarnations of the chess-playing, cigarette-smoking, crime-fighting detective have included stars such as Powers Boothe, Dick Powell, Elliot Gould, Danny Glover and, most famously, Humphrey Bogart, so Neeson already has a tough act to follow – but for the actor’s 100th movie, why not tackle a character where he could have a little fun?
Set in 1939 Los Angeles and inspired by the events in the book, The Black-Eyed Blonde, the narrative has detective Marlowe becoming embroiled in another investigation when he is hired by wealthy socialite Clare Cavendish (Diane Kruger) to find her missing lover, a mysterious man caught up in some shady dealings. The sleuth must put himself in the line of fire to find out the truth, but the more stones he unturns, the more enemies he finds waiting for him.
Viewers find ourselves stuck in the tangled web that Marlowe has to navigate, and this is not helped by the “waste no time” approach to the opening act, which leaves us running behind the plot, desperately trying to piece together the introductory pieces. The story does begin to click as it progresses, but this takes some time and, even as a wonderful cinematic finale comes to its close, one is still left wondering if there are any other loose ends that haven’t been tied up. Things just sort of happen and before we know it we’ve reached the end.
Neeson doesn’t seem to be the most convincing casting for Philip Marlowe: he fits the physical character description – a tall, powerful man with dark hair – but after that the similarities end. He is too old to play the role demanded for this story, and the depiction seems to sit heavily on his shoulders. No, Chandler never intended for Marlowe to be a man full of jubilant charisma, vim or vigour, but this interpretation seems devoid of anything, even passion for the work.
A bugbear that becomes growingly difficult to shake off is that the movie’s locations don’t look like Los Angeles. Main exterior filming took place in Barcelona, Spain, which posed as the locale of Spanish revival architecture that consumed west California in the early 20th century. This said, the production looks great and is visually stimulating thanks to some vibrant cinematography from Xavi Giménez. The soundtrack hits all the right notes, transporting its audience back to old Hollywood Los Angeles and making them feel like slinking about the room for a considerable time after the credits roll. Energy is also pumped in as much as it can be through the performances of Jessica Lange (as ageing Hollywood starlet Dorothy Quincannon) and Alan Cumming (as gangster businessman Lou Hendricks).
It isn’t an unenjoyable experience watching Marlowe, but it certainly could have been done better, given the weight of the titular character.
Marlowe is released in cinemas and on Sky Cinema on 17th March 2023.
Watch the trailer for Marlowe here: