Written by Tom Augustine.
It certainly feels like a while since we had an honest-to-god LA noir grace the big screen, and it’s a welcome return. I’m an especially easy mark for these kinds of properties – I love the period of postwar Hollywood, the starlets and private dicks, the sun-drenched, blue-sky locales and shadowy, streetlit alleyways. It’s also been a long while since we’ve seen Raymond Chandler’s iconic detective, Philip Marlowe, on the big screen – the last time was in 1978, in the remake of The Big Sleep that cast Robert Mitchum in the role. Elsewhere, the character has been played by none other than Humphrey Bogart, though the most lasting screen adaptation of the role may be Elliott Gould in Robert Altman’s visionary update The Long Goodbye, that reimagined the character as a layabout adrift in Seventies California malaise.
Marlowe, the latest iteration of the character, does not in fact originate from a Raymond Chandler story, but from a spiritual sequel from John Banville that landed on shelves about a decade ago. This version is adapted for the screen by Neil Jordan, of Interview With the Vampire and The Crying Game fame, a director with a career of swings and roundabouts, high highs and low lows. Marlowe, it seems, is destined to land somewhere in the lower-middle of his career. As the origins of the story suggest, it’s a film that trades in pastiche of the period, an inauthentic feeling facsimile of greater films of yesteryear, though there are glimmers of a better film peeking through the murk.
Liam Neeson feels miscast as iconic detective Philip Marlowe in Neil Jordan’s rehash of the character – the first big screen appearance for the role in over forty years. It’s a shame that Marlowe feels so lackluster, a weak-kneed retread of better sun-drenched noirs of years past that ticks every box but never sparks to life.
Marlowe’s Philip is played by Liam Neeson, an odd-seeming choice for the role – a European whose characters’ Americanness is always more of a suggestion than a rule, and who has largely been relegated to off-the-rack actioners post-Taken (a couple of which turned out to be surprisingly great films). An initially intriguing choice ultimately turns out to be a crucial case of miscasting – Neeson largely sleepwalks through the role, rarely offering anything beyond ‘what if Liam Neeson was a detective in the forties’ as a character direction with little in common with the Chandler character – even in a subversive way as with The Long Goodbye.
In Marlowe, this Marlowe-adjacent Marlowe wanders his way through a by-the-numbers missing person in Hollywood case, encountering every character you’ve seen better executed in Chinatown or L.A. Confidential – the femmes fatale, the dodgy club owners, the shady policemen. It’s all reasonably well put together by Jordan – a resolute stylist, he knows his way around an evocative image and ensures his digital recreation of the classic LA noir setting is appropriately faithful if generally uninspiring. Nothing new is offered, however, nothing that can’t be found better executed elsewhere. Laden with a script by William Monahan that is at once too-ambling and too convoluted, rarely does Marlowe raise the pulse, let alone provide a sense of broiling tension that one found in earlier, superior works. The original noir movement in cinema was a response to the bright, peppy studio work of the forties and fifties that felt less and less relevant to postwar audiences as time went on. The era we are in, post-pandemic, certainly feels like it’d be well-suited to a return of the noir – but if that’s the case we will need to find new avenues within the genre, rather than pale imitations like Marlowe.
Marlowe in cinemas now.
Movie title: Marlowe (Jordan, 2022)
Movie description: Liam Neeson feels miscast as iconic detective Philip Marlowe in Neil Jordan’s rehash of the character - the first big screen appearance for the role in over forty years. It’s a shame that Marlowe feels so lackluster, a weak-kneed retread of better sun-drenched noirs of years past that ticks every box but never sparks to life.
Date published: April 27, 2023
Author: William Monahan, Neil Jordan, John Banville
Director(s): Neil Jordan
Actor(s): Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange
Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller