Greetings again from the darkness. The great Raymond Chandler created the now iconic Private Investigator, Philip Marlowe. Over many years, we have gotten to know Marlowe through novels and film adaptations. Actors as varied as Humphrey Bogart, Robert Montgomery, Dick Powell, Robert Mitchum, and Elliott Gould have played the cynical P.I., and now Oscar winning writer-director Neil Jordan (THE CRYING GAME, 1996) has added Liam Neeson to the list. Oscar winning writer William Monahan (THE DEPARTED, 2006) adapted the screenplay from John Banville’s (writing as Benjamin Black) 2014 novel, “The Black-Eyed Blonde”.
It’s 1939 in Los Angeles when Clare Cavendish (Diane Kruger) strolls into Marlowe’s (Neeson) office and hires him to find Nico Peterson (Francois Arnaud). Simple enough, only there’s a catch (of course): Nico has been declared dead and the body identified by a relative. Adding to the intrigue (of course) is Clare (she prefers to be called Cavendish) herself, the daughter of powerful former film star Dorothy Cavendish (played by two-time Oscar winner Jessica Lange, TOOTSIE, BLUE SKY). As you would expect, the case leads Marlowe to cross paths with many ‘bad’ folks and a few instances of danger, which he (of course) manages to maneuver or outmaneuver.
The supporting cast is strong and includes Colm Meaney, Alan Cumming (with a southern accent?), Danny Huston (a nod to his father’s noir classic CHINATOWN?), and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. A couple of things are unfortunately quite clear. First, every noir cliché and trope is included here; and second, Liam Neeson is not the guy to pull off the Marlowe role – unless it was a full-on parody, in which case, he might have been a better fit. If he has put forth any effort into the role, it was apparently to ensure that his Marlowe is the least memorable one ever. There is no personal stamp on the role, and because of that, nothing really clicks here.
On the upside, the set decorations and costumes are divine. The film has the right look, but just brings nothing new or exciting to one of my favorite genres. It’s a throwback to hard-boiled detective crime stories of the 1940’s without the grit or charm. Marlowe first appeared in Raymond Chandler’s 1939 novel, “The Big Sleep”, and most iterations bring something new to the character or story. Perhaps the only thing director Jordan serves here is a shootout near the end. It’s more drawn out and noisy than what we would have seen 80 years ago, and it’s probably the right choice for today’s audience.
Opens in theaters on February 15, 2023