Liam Neeson Sleepwalks Through Neil Jordan’s Convoluted Noir

Feb 17, 2023

Raymond Chandler’s famous hard-boiled detective gets an update in Neil Jordan’s “Marlowe.” Stepping into the shoes that Humphrey Bogart and Elliot Gould made famous, Liam Neeson’s 100th feature film suggests, perhaps, the weary actor needn’t be so prolific. An adaptation of John Banville’s “The Black Eyed Blonde,” the film “Marlowe” — like its perfunctory title suggests — is simply going through the motions, adopting its protagonist’s lethargic disposition. While the film marks a reunion between Jordan and Neeson — after “Michael Collins” and, less successfully, “Breakfast on Pluto” — the film is also a low point in the Oscar-winning director’s career. 
READ MORE: ‘Marlowe’ Trailer: Liam Neeson Stars In His 100th Movie From ‘The Crying Game’ Director Neil Jordan
Gone are the campy thrills of Jordan’s previously batshit “Greta,” which was nonsensical but at least weird enough to be highly entertaining. Here, Jordan feels like an odd fit, as the heightened dialogue and self-conscious style seem outside of the wheelhouse of a director who’s done his best work when he’s exploring the fantastical. Instead, the film is swallowed by the type of serpentine plot that is trademarked for the genre.
But, whereas anyone who has seen “The Big Sleep” and “The Long Goodbye” couldn’t care less about the convoluted stories that propel them, “Marlowe” is seemingly only interested in unpacking its dense narrative. Scripted by William Monahan, “Marlowe” begins with Clare Cavendish (Diane Kruger) hiring Marlowe to track down her ex-lover Nico Peterson. 
Presumed dead from a car accident, everything is obvious now what it seems as Marlowe’s investigation extends into the underbelly of Hollywood, as he works alongside two cops (Colm Meaney and Ian Hart) to uncover a conspiracy that includes an American ambassador (Mitchell Mullen), a Hollywood executive (Danny Huston), and a seedy nightclub owner (Alan Cumming). How these characters interact and what Cavendish actually wants from Peterson isn’t too surprising, given the genre we are in. But, the film hinges on Neeson’s grumbly detective lurching from scene to scene and character to character.
It’s odd for a film titled after its protagonist to be so disinterested in his motivations. Why he takes the case or even how he feels about Cavendish is only given the barest of explanations. Instead, Neeson’s Marlowe is essentially a blank slate. He’s so committed to solving the case because, well, the script demands it. Save for a few references to Neeson’s age and an odd flirtation between him and Kruger’s character; this Marlowe could’ve been played by anyone. This means that the film lives or dies with its supporting characters. 
While Kruger adapts well to the femme fatale role, she is also mirroring Neeson’s lack of charisma. The same goes for Danny Huston, who could play a menacing Hollywood mogul in his sleep. If there’s an MVP, it’s Cumming. Adopting an exaggerated southern drawl, he’s basically teleported in from a different film, one that at least has some self-awareness. The same goes for Jessica Lange, who makes the most of her few minutes of screentime as Cavendish’s mother. 
Jordan also makes the odd decision to shoot Barcelona for 1930s LA, which should ostensibly give the film an old-world vibe but, instead, makes everything look a little off. This feeling isn’t helped by Xavi Giménez’s soft cinematography, which features the stock images associated with noir — watch out for a neon sign reflected in a pool of water. The same goes for David Holmes’s forgettable score. 
“Marlowe” isn’t the catastrophe that others may make it out to be, but it’s instead just inert, forgettable immediately after the credits roll. Jordan feels like he’s going through the motions, uninterested in bringing any personality to the genre. De Palma’s languid “The Black Dahlia” comes to mind; another misguided attempt at pastiche from a once lauded director. Neeson’s recent output has, at the very least, suggested a commitment to genre exercises, making it all the more strange that this one just barely raises above a resting heart rate even when the bullets start flying. [C-]
“Marlowe” hits theaters via Open Road on February 15, 2023.

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