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.
Greetings again from the darkness. “Don’t touch anything on the subway.” That should be a warning posted in all New York City tourist brochures. Recent NYC transplant Frances didn’t get the memo. She not only picks up a “lost” handbag, but also wants to personally return it to the rightful owner – despite the counseling of her streetwise roommate. Oscar winning director Neil Jordan (THE CRYING GAME) co-wrote the screenplay with Ray Wright, and they blend in many elements … not the least of which is making friends with someone you shouldn’t.
Chloe Grace Moretz plays Frances as the good-hearted Boston-raised girl who is almost too innocent to believe, given the day and age we are in. When Frances returns the purse, she is greeted warmly and appreciatively by a kindly Greta (Isabelle Huppert). The two bond over their individual loneliness: Greta says her daughter lives abroad, and Frances’ mother passed away about a year ago. It’s easy to see how a friendship forms through a substitute mother-daughter gap-filling.
An accidental discovery by Frances sends her out the door, intent on cutting ties with Greta. What Frances soon learns is that Greta is a crafty psychopath of the highest order. It’s at this point where filmmaker Jordan kicks in the twisted, dark humor and serves us a cheap-thrills ride via a full blown stalker movie. Greta is truly deranged and once Ms. Huppert cuts loose, we see how much fun she’s having. She even plays a piano teacher, which is kind of funny since she was also the piano teacher in THE PIANO TEACHER (2001). She becomes my first and favorite Liszt loving psychopath, who likely isn’t as technologically challenged as she makes out.
There are stylistic and story elements reminiscent of movies like FATAL ATTRACTION and SINGLE WHITE FEMALE, and Jordan’s camera angles and lighting combine with Javier Navarrete’s score to dish up some B-movie type comically dark moments. Maika Monroe (IT FOLLOWS) is terrific as Frances’ roommate. She’s the direct type who tells Frances that “this city will eat you alive”, but is also extremely supportive and protective (and good at yoga).
Stephen Rea and Colm Feore appear in limited roles, but the fun you have here is directly related to how you buy into the Greta vs Frances web. It’s rare to see an onscreen female predator, but neither Mr. Jordan nor Ms. Huppert round off any edges. We are reminded that being nice doesn’t always pay off, but having friends certainly does. There is some creepy evil fun to be had, as well as a key life lesson: never trust a woman with too many purses.