I grew up reading mystery and detective novels. Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie’s works were commonplace on my bookshelf. I was weaned on these books by my mother, which led to my love for all things “who-done-it.” Liam Neeson takes on the role of Philip Marlowe in Marlowe, where the down-on-his-luck detective takes on the mystery of the missing lover of a stunningly pretty blond socialite. Beautifully set in the Bay City in the 1930s, Marlowe succeeds in pleasantly pleasing fans like me. Still, director Neil Jordan might not have done enough to capture contemporary audiences and draw them into the world of gumshoes and seedy criminal activity.
Neeson’s “special set of skills” don’t apply here. He’s basically Liam Neeson playing Philip Marlowe as Liam Neeson, but that’s why we love him. Many have played Marlowe over the years, and Neeson can add his name to the list (including Humphry Bogart, Elliot Gould, and James Garner) of impressive performances of Chandler’s private dick. He does his unique version of the famed Marlowe alongside co-stars Diane Kruger (client Clare Cavendish), Jessica Lang (aged movie star and Clare’s mother Dorothy Cavendish), and Alan Cummings, and he manages enough variance to please fans of Chandler’s gumshoe like me. The story is your essential, no-frills detective mystery and in line with such formulas, is easy to predict.
Lang and Kruger are perfect in Marlowe, and they capture the very essence of detective damsels and hardcore dames. They both have a sassy edge, and Lang is particularly tense and commanding. Cummings does what he does well, giving us a creepy antagonist who we love to hate. The plot involves drugs, a studio head-turned-ambassador, and a plaster mermaid smuggled from Mexico, and it isn’t exactly mind-blowing. Still, it’s just interesting and attractive enough to keep us watching.
Yes, the story is transparent, but Jordan’s film noir is a well-crafted detective movie that enchants genre fans with its stylish, sordid underworld and fresh take on a classic character. Jordan has exquisitely photographed his tale, and costumers and set designers have gone above and beyond to create the 1930s and the seedy side of the street. The story is sometimes convoluted, but I found it a thoroughly enjoyable period piece. I mentioned earlier that it might not appeal to younger audiences, but I am a fan.