This Liam Neeson-led film succeed in looking and sounding right, but fails at being watchable.
It’s fascinating how well a film can match the style of something while completely missing the point. Case in point, the Neil Jordan-directed and Liam Neeson-starring Marlowe. It’s well-shot and smartly costumed. The script and set decoration drip with classic noir trappings. Nonetheless, it fails completely.
Neil Jordan Blues
Jordan has the directing chops to realize a faithful, time-period accurate adaptation of pop culture’s most famous P.I., Philip Marlowe. Working with cinematographer Xavi Giménez, the director gives 1940s Los Angeles a warm glow to match the era. Trading in the stark lines and deep shadows of the typical noir stylings is perhaps the creative team’s only surprising choice. Perhaps it makes sense, then, that it is also the most interesting. It gives the movie imagery a seductive quality that conveys this fictional Hollywood’s fast temptations and easy-to-underestimate dangers.
Otherwise, however, Jordan seems off his game. His previous effort, the flawed but agreeably bonkers Greta, suggested a return to form. It highlighted the director’s talent for finding humanity in even the least worthy characters. Additionally, his gift for twisted plotting that somehow feels genuine even as it flies off the rails remained intact. Marlowe, by contrast, feels populated by empty shells moving through a plot both benign and devoid of authenticity.
Scripting Is a Nuisance
There’s a scene early in Marlowe between Neeson’s gumshoe and his latest client, Clare Cavendish (Diane Kruger). They speak to one another in impeccable noir dialogue, but it doesn’t feel exhilarating or enthralling, as the form does when handled best. Instead, it’s irritating. There’s even a moment where Neeson sighs in vague frustration, and this writer found himself thinking, “you and me both, pal.”
However, I briefly entertained the notion that this was intentional. That Jordan and the screenwriter William Monahan were pushing the genre conventions so hard and far to reveal their falseness. In real life, if someone tried to talk to you like a down-on-his-luck PI or a femme fatale with murder and sex on her mind, they’d be deeply off-putting. So why not hold that up to the late?
Maybe that was their intent. Perhaps not. Either way, even if it was, my irritation outstripped any appreciation for the possibly meta? by scene’s end. Analyzing, breaking down, and/or blowing up tropes is fine. However, if you’ve got nothing else behind them to hook the audience, it will feel just as unpleasant as a lousy movie without deep thoughts.
Monahan has shown he can handle this kind of story well with The Departed. He’s even created strong characters in otherwise underwhelming works like The Tender Bar. Unfortunately, none of that skill ends up on the page or screen here.
Miscasting Is My Business
At 70 years old, Neeson is about 25 years older than Marlowe at his oldest. He’s also significantly more polished. Nearly all he and the character naturally have in common is both are consistently referenced as tall. But Neeson feels like Marlowe’s fitter, more put-together older brother.
Still, there have been plenty of off-book interpretations of the character over the years that nonetheless have worked. Moreover, Neeson is a compelling enough presence on-screen that even if he’s not quite the right fit, he could certainly make up that ground in the work. What’s more damning is his chemistry with Kruger. Or rather, total lack thereof.
The duo generates as much heat on-screen as one would pouring the coldest glass of water they could find over ice. Instead of being drawn to her, Neeson consistently reads as either bored or actively irritated. Similarly, Kruger never seems like she is even mildly interested in seducing the detective, be it to manipulate or bed him. As a result, there are no emotional stakes at the film’s center. When he rejects her advances, your heart doesn’t ache for love lost. Instead, the audience will likely think, “of course, he said no… he clearly has no affection for her.” Similarly, the ultimate reveal of the heiress’s master plan may surprise, but it never feels remotely tragic.
The supporting players are a bit better, with Alan Cummings, in particular, making a meal of some truly outrageous dialogue as a very pleased with himself crime boss. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje also stands out, bringing gruff charisma to Cumming’s valet.
Farewell, My Disappointing
Great noir is an absolute delight. Good noir can be watched over and over. Hell, mediocre noir is a way to wile away 100 minutes that you’ll not regret. But bad noir? That which Marlowe is, undeniably? It hits you twice. First, it’s a waste of your time. Second, it reminds you how many other movies you could be watching that do what it’s imitating infinitely better.
Marlowe sticks its nose where it doesn’t belong beginning February 15 in theatres.
Rating: 3.5/10 SPECS
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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Tim Steven is a sad tomato, Tim Stevens is three miles of bad road. He’s also a therapist, staff writer and social media manager for The Spool, and a freelance writer with publications like ComicsVerse, Marvel.com, CC Magazine, and The New Paris Press. His work has been quoted in Psychology Today, The Atlantic, and MSN Ireland. Feel free to find him @UnGajje on Twitter or in a realm of pure imagination.