Now in the twilight of his action movie career, Liam Neeson is wisely taking roles with a greater emphasis on his dramatic prowess than his physicality. For his latest action/drama Marlowe, Neeson takes a role well-suited for his current career focus playing a private detective who occasionally has to mix it up and lay hands on goons.
Marlowe is tailor-made for Neeson and should resonate with his fans that’s just happy to see the former Taken star still kicking butt albeit a lot slower.
That’s also true of the film, which has some inspired moments yet feels too plodding and methodical to deliver the throwback thriller vibe director Neil Jordan (Greta) intended.
Screenwriter William Monahan (The Tender Bar) adapted Benjamin Black’s 2014 novel The Black-Eyed Blonde. Raymond Chandler created the Marlowe character, who’s been portrayed on film and TV by stars including Robert Mitchum, Powers Boothe, James Caan and Danny Glover.
The plot seems like it could have been conceived by an AI writing generator using the basic detective novel format. Monahan trots out the standard elements from the debut of the semi-flirtatious femme fatale, the disappearing lover and a shady member’s only club that seemingly holds all the secrets of the dark side of late 1930s Hollywood.
Clare Cavendish (Diane Kruger, The 355) hires Marlowe to find her lover, Nico Peterson (François Arnaud (Blindspot), who’s gone missing. While Nico was presumed dead after a violent hit and run, Clare swears she saw him just a few days ago. Marlowe is immune to Cavendish’s flirty charms and avoids getting wrapped around her finger.
During his investigation, Marlowe encounters several interesting characters from Nico’s sister, Lynn (Daniela Melchior, The Suicide Squad); the calculated Hollywood studio mogul Floyd Hansen (Danny Huston); a chatty Hollywood power broker (Alan Cumming) and his intimidating yet thoughtful driver/bodyguard Cedric (a fantastic Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Lost).
Neeson has no trouble fitting into the role of the weary private dick. Marlowe isn’t as interesting a character as the standard for the genre. He lacks that one case that keeps him obsessed even while handling other investigations. There are no skeletons in his closet he’s seeking atonement. The most significant aspect of Marlowe’s background seems to be he missed out on a pension after leaving the police force.
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While the material doesn’t give him anything meaty, Neeson handles the role just fine. He’s got the presence to pull off the role in his sleep and the occasional fight scenes provide a little life to the slow investigative process.
Neeson’s supporting cast has more opportunities to bring some excitement and fare better. Jessica Lange seems to be having a ball as Clare’s aging movie star mother who still has plenty of stroke left in Hollywood and Cumming is a blast in all of his scenes.
But it’s hard for any performer to overcome the general sense of boredom. Marlowe just kind of plays out without much of a spark. The one unique dynamic finds Marlowe teaming up with Cedric, which proves a nice treat and was one that warranted more screen time than the final act.
Production values are solid with grand Hollywood set designs though the picture quality comes off too pristine. Marlowe looks like a movie set in 1939 that was done in 2022.
To get more of that throwback visual, Marlowe could have used vintage lenses and some grainy overlays. Jordan’s technique makes the film look far too modern for a period piece.
Marlowe feels a little too safe and by the numbers to offer much entertainment. It’s content to be an average detective movie, but it’s lackadaisical approach hardly makes it worth taking the case to get invested in Marlowe’s latest big screen effort.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Open Road Films
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