It’s the late 1930s, the war effort is starting to get pretty real for the US, and Philip Marlowe, private eye, is assigned to a seemingly innocuous case that ends up being more than he bargained for. Sound familiar? Well not only is Philip Marlowe a famous hard-boiled genre character that’s nearly 100 years old, he’s also played by the sometimes-capable Liam Neeson. I was immediately drawn to the premise, but a lack of passion and follow-through bring Marlowe down to Earth.
The setup is easy to follow: a woman comes to Marlowe with a seek and find task, and things unravel from there. Diane Kruger plays that very person (the mysterious and rich Clare Cavendish), and sadly lacks the gravitas to really pull us into her world, and her story. A big problem is the lack of chemistry with Neeson, who is not up to the task of carrying the film as he investigates all the né’er-do-wells he uncovers.
At one point in the film, when Neeson was fighting people off decades younger than him, I rolled my eyes a bit. That action sequence contained about as many cuts as the fence climbing scene from Taken 3: and it made me once again question Neeson’s status as a leading man in the back half of his career. Neeson isn’t the only issue though. There are a lot of people involved in Marlowe, including myriad character actors, many of which only serve to dump expository dialogue. Jessica Lange is the real bright spot of the film (as the mother of Clare), and she’s barely in it.
“I was immediately drawn to the premise, but a lack of passion and follow-through bring Marlowe down to Earth.”
My big problem is the script, specifically the dialogue. There are a lot of cryptic threats thrown around that sound tough on paper, but come out like a whimper on the screen. It even has the scene where the lead detective could easily be killed, but isn’t, so he can uncover more of the insidious secret. There was a lot of potential in the relationship between Marlowe and Cedric (played by the always magnetic Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), but just as that thread gets going, the film ends.
Despite all my misgivings, I found myself wanting more of the Marlowe character. If it was a different actor, and a different story was used to reintroduce society to Marlowe after all this time, it could have gone a lot differently. However, choosing to clumsily adapt this story with a weak script could put this series back on ice for a few more decades. Shows like Bosch are increasingly highlighting how slow burns work better on TV, and I hope we get to see Marlowe again down the line. For now, even noir fans can rest easy knowing this big screen adaptation is skippable.