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"MARLOWE"
(2023) (Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A pre-WWII era detective tries to find a missing man and how he's connected to an ever-expanding network of powerful and unscrupulous people.
PLOT:

It's 1939 in Los Angeles and Philip Marlowe (LIAM NEESON) is a former cop who previously worked in the district attorney's office alongside Joe Green (IAN HART) and Bernie Ohls (COLM MEANEY) but is now self-employed as a private detective. With his reputation preceding him, wealthy socialite Clare Cavendish (DIANE KRUGER) -- daughter of widowed oil baroness Dorothy Quincannon (JESSICA LANGE) -- hires Marlowe to find her lover, film studio prop master Nico Peterson (FRANÇOIS ARNAUD) who's mysteriously gone missing.

Not long into his investigation, Marlowe learns that Nico reportedly was killed in a hit-and-run accident -- with his sister, Lynn Peterson (DANIELA MELCHIOR) -- identifying the body, but then Clare informs the detective that she spotted Nico in Tijuana. And thus, Marlowe continues his search, including visiting an exclusive club run by Floyd Hanson (DANNY HUSTON) just outside of which Nico allegedly was killed.

He also has a run-in with crime figure Lou Hendricks (ALAN CUMMING) and his driver/henchman Cedric (ADEWALE AKINNUOVE AGBAJE), all while wondering how a mysterious figure known only as The Ambassador (MITCHELL MULLEN) might be involved. As Marlow digs deeper, he finds a complex scenario that he must unravel to determine whether Nico is alive or not, how everything fits together, and what the ultimate motive is behind what's transpiring.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10

While most people don't particularly seek to engage with difficult mysteries in real life ("What does this cough mean?" "Where did I put my keys?"), they do seem to enjoy them in their fiction, although probably not as much recently as was once the case in days gone by.

After all, Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and even the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew once ruled the roost in that genre, appearing in plenty of books, TV shows, and films. Nowadays, and perhaps due to the Internet allowing armchair sleuths access to a seemingly inexhaustible amount of information through which to dig and do their sleuthing, such characters -- with a few exceptions -- have taken a back seat to other fictional creations.

All of which makes one wonder about the decision to undertake a new adaptation of a once uber-popular detective, none other than Philip Marlowe. Created by Raymond Chandler and unleashed on the literary world in 1939's "The Big Sleep," the character has been portrayed on the silver screen by Humphrey Bogart, James Garner (who then segued into "The Rockford Files"), Elliot Gould, and most "recently," Robert Mitchum.

I used quotes around that particular word because the last time Marlowe appeared in a film, "Grease" was the word at the box office and the 1978 version of "The Big Sleep" -- which moved the story from pre-WWII Los Angeles to then present-day London -- apparently bombed in the burgeoning days of the Hollywood blockbuster.

Throwing caution to the wind -- but wisely returning the character to his original physical and temporal setting -- director Neil Jordan ("The Crying Game") tries his hand at breathing new life into the character in "Marlow," with the lead this time around played by Liam Neeson. I'll admit I've done no detective work on the following assumption, but I'm guessing that at 70, he's the oldest to play the part, and likely the tallest.

Not being anything resembling a diehard, "don't mess with the particulars" of the character sort of reviewer, none of that bothered me. And I'll admit it looks great from the production design down through the costuming and hair/makeup and features a well-stocked cast featuring good performances from the likes of Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange, Danny Houston, Colm Meany, and Alan Cumming among others.

The big issue is that the script -- adapted by William Monahan from John Banville's estate-authorized 2014 novel "The Black-Eyed Blonde" -- feels like it's trying too hard to be pulpy in its dialogue and twisty-turvy in its plotting. As a result, it draws attention to itself when we should be playing along and trying to untangle the mystery at hand.

That revolves around Kruger's rich socialite character, Clare Cavendish, hiring Neeson's gumshoe to find her now-missing lover, movie studio prop master Nico Peterson (Francois Arnaud). When he shows up dead with a crushed head outside a swanky, members-only club run by Houston's Floyd Hanson, Marlowe assumes the case is closed.

But then Clare reportedly spots Nico in Acapulco and thus the detective resumes his work, leading to one character after another as the plot thickens and, to quote another famous detective, the game is afoot.

Which is all fine and dandy in concept, but the executed results often feel rushed, episodic, and somewhat disjointed. It's unclear if that's a result of the script, Jordan's direction, the post-shooting editing, or some combination thereof.

Despite the cast, I just don't see the film really catching on with audiences and thus the only remaining mystery will be whether anyone will try again and if it will be another half-century or so until the character reemerges. "Marlowe" rates as a 4 out of 10.




Posted February 17, 2023


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