(Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller – Director: Neil Jordan – Writers: Neil Jordan, John Banville – Stars: Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange)
According to IMDB: “In late 1930’s Bay City, a brooding, down on his luck detective is hired to find the ex-lover of a glamorous heiress.”
Philip Marlowe is a character created by Raymond Chandler in 1933 for a short story entitled “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot.”
From the rip, it was a character that embodied the archetype of the hardboiled detective. Marlowe is a street-smart, intelligent, knight-in-scuffed armor detective who lives life in shades of gray. He smokes hard, drinks hard and can take an ass-whipping as easily as he can dish one out.
After Marlowe’s debut, he appeared in nearly 30 more short stories by Chandler as well as a half-dozen novels. Following Chandler’s death in 1959, a litany of other authors have stepped in to continue the adventures of the resolute sleuth.
On the big screen, the character has been brought to life by such heavy hitters as Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, Elliott Gould and others.
The point being is that despite the medium that the character is presented in (film, radio, print, etc…) it is special, enduring. It’s iconic in a way that few works of fiction achieve. Along with that comes the pressure to produce for those subsequent creators who are chosen to handle the property.
Writer/Director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) and screen toughie Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List, Taken) are bringing Philip Marlowe to life once again. The story, based on the 2014 novel The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black, Marlowe is to look into the disappearance and death of a wealthy heiress’ missing lover. However, the assignment isn’t as simple as it seems and quickly complicates.
Overall, I liked the film. I am a huge sucker for Chandler and really a mark for any sort of gumshoe detective, so I was already one foot in the door on this one.
However, there were a couple things that, even a week later, have stuck in my head.
I really like Liam Neeson. The man has been terrific in some terrific films. I even like him in the role of a detective, but I don’t know if I felt him as Phillip Marlowe. I kinda kept noticing that Liam Neeson was on the screen. Decades later, Bogart’s performance felt more definitive and has still stuck in my head. Kinda like Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes. Others have done a great job but it’s never quite the same. Now that can’t be said for James Bond. A number of actors (Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Daniel Craig) have played the iconic spy but I don’t feel one has been utterly singular. Each has brought something unique to the role.
The pacing of the movie was a little funky to me. When the credits finished rolling, I looked at my friend to ask the time. We had gone to a 7 pm screening and so I was fully prepared for it to be 9:30 or 9:45 because that’s how long it felt. Turns out it wasn’t even 9. I just think it was how the film was cut. After the screening, we stopped for a drink at a microbrewery. When I mentioned to one of my friends that an issue that I had with the film was that I wasn’t sure of the timeframe in which the story unfolded, he looked at me like I was crazy. However, Marlowe literally went from one one-on-one interrogation to another without a breath. I don’t know if the movie took place in a day, a week or a month. That’s why I was weary by the end…chunks of it felt like sludging through a dialogue marathon. (And without pointing fingers, there was a performance or two that felt like a table read and not something worthy of appearing in the final cut.)
Enough negative stuff!
The movie looked and felt beautiful. I’m a sucker for period films set in this era that feature cool cars. Vehicles from that decade were/are works of art. Unless I was tricked by some CGI, there was even a vintage firetruck near the end of the scene that was terrific.
I try not to get too caught up with putting hard parameters on who “should” be cast in a role. As far as I’m concerned, the best actor for the part should get it. And of course, I like a pretty face, but does EVERYONE in Hollywood need to be a 20-year-old pretty face? Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense in terms of the movie. The cast of Marlowe skews older. Neeson is 70, Jessica Lange is 73 and even Diane Kruger is 46. Older actors carry a weight, an authenticity, that can’t be faked or forged via makeup or prosthetics. Plus, they have experience in their craft. Also, this rings true to the period in which the tale was set. The actors used back then were older across the board. I’d like to see more of it in the future.
Oh, I’d like to give a special nod to Adewale Akinnoye-Agbaje, who played “Cedric” the driver/heavy of Alan Cumming’s character “Lou Hendricks.” I’ve seen Akinnoye-Agbaje previously in The Mummy Returns, The Bourne Identity and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, but he shined in this. He is charismatic, handsome and, at 6’2″, has presence. (And to my earlier point, he is 55 years old.) Without giving details, he and Neeson share a number of scenes in the final third of the picture and share terrific chemistry. I can’t exactly articulate why, but I got Pulp Fiction vibes from that part of the film.
Anyways, I liked Marlowe. Do I think it’s great? No. Is it pretty good? Sure. If you are a fan of 40’s Noir, you are gonna dig it. Though different in tone and plot, if you enjoy throwback pieces like Knives Out, this will probably be in your wheelhouse as well. I wouldn’t necessarily rush out to the theater for it…but I’d definitely catch it once it hits streaming services.
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