The film genre of noir has evolved over the decades. It is a genre that has housed some of the most beloved classics of all time. Noir’s distinct style, glamour and music alone tell a story, while simultaneously enhancing the plot. Even if we as viewers do not remember every single detail of the unfolding plot, there is usually a costume, a prop, a setting, a score, or one single arresting scene that we remember long after the credits roll. Such is not the case for Neil Jordan’s Marlowe. The film tries but ultimately fails to reach the heights of previous entries of noir.
In the film, detective Philip Marlowe (Liam Neeson) is hired to track down the former significant other of an heiress, named Claire Cavendish (Diane Kruger). This lover is Claire’s is a film-maker, named Nico Peterson (Francois Arnaud), who mysteriously disappeared without explaining his reasons to Claire. While investigating, Marlowe crosses paths with Claire’s mother, Dorothy Cavendish (Jessica Lange), an aspiring Hollywood actress herself who knows the game of show business inside out. Marlowe comes head-to-head with Floyd Hansen (Danny Huston), the owner of wealthy estate club that has been frequently visited by the people in questioning. Our protagonist also clashes with Lou Hendricks (Alan Cumming), a sleazy man, who is in on the scandal, and cruelly mistreats his driver, Cedric (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Each of these individuals with whom Marlowe interacts, serves as an important piece to helping him solve the mystery of Nico’s disappearance.
On the surface, Marlowe is clearly a neo-noir thriller. We are treated to classic 1930’s Hollywood backlots, California palm trees, fedoras and finger-waves, and renditions of “I’ll Be Seeing You”. We also get the smoke poses, glamorous weapons and dramatized violence that have become almost synonymous with film noir. All of these small things are enjoyable to see and hear, but unfortunately, they are not enough to save the very basic and familiar plot at the center of the film.
The incredible Liam Neeson tries, but even when he brings his usual performance of the soft-spoken yet commanding strategist, this approach is ineffective in its attempt to make this film more intriguing. Danny Huston in this film, plays a role very similar to that played by in father, John Huston, in Chinatown (1974), a famous noir film from which this film borrows quite heavily. Sadly, Huston’s role in Marlowe feels like more of a plot device, and lacks the depth and memorable presence that even Danny himself had previously brought to the neo-noir television show, Magic City. Diane Kruger is sadly very generic in her role, which makes it difficult to root for her character. On the better side, veteran Jessica Lange brings a liveliness to her role with such a demanding flamboyancy, while Alan Cumming and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje get some witty lines as they turn the plot of the film. The climax of the film, however, is not only a clichéd one, but it lacks emotion and soul, because the characters involved were simply not compelling enough.
In the end, Marlowe is another film where we have a missing person, a hired detective to investigate, clues, witnesses, secrets, guns, love, loss and a brief epilogue. This film tells a straightforward story. The visuals and sound act simply to create the setting, but they tell no story of their own and do not elevate the film’s plot. Rather than adding on to the genre of film noir, Marlowe feels like a watered-down version of the genre’s superior previous entries. Marlowe is Liam Neeson’s 100th film, a record that no great artist can break without having a few that are forgettable. To anyone who is wondering if they should purchase a ticket to see Marlowe, I would tell them that the solid cast members of this film each have an array of incredible and memorable work that I would check out instead.
Final Grade: C-