Marlowe (film review)

Dick Powell, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Montgomery, James Garner, Elliott Gould, Robert Mitchum and now Liam Neeson. Actors who have played private eye Philip Marlowe.

Clockwise from top, left: Powell, Bogart, Mitchum and Montgomery

Snappy dialogue, obtuse characters, flashback narrative, stylish photography, world weary detective – required elements of an old fashioned gum-shoe detective. Cigarette smoke everywhere, hard dames, infidelity, drinking on the job, obscene wealth, Marlowe (2022) has all the trappings of the private detective genre of the late 1930s – 1940s.

Neeson has that slow-burn, skeptical, but quick-defense as Marlowe. Impatient at clients that keep secrets or deceive him, Marlowe doesn’t give up, once he’s had a taste of a juicy bone. A former copper, Marlowe has a quirky relationship with the law.

In this era, everyone was a wisecracking character, with quick, colorful retorts. The music is melancholy and a bit foreboding, directors tend to lay on the period style with a firehose to convince us of the authenticity. The film is based on The Black-Eyed Blonde by John Banville. Director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Michael Collins) filmed in Barcelona, Spain for exteriors instead of Los Angeles. Jordan says he was after a Blade Runner type rainy, shiny, neon-gloom.

The film is populated by a very talented cast. Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange, Danny Huston, Alan Cumming, Colm Meaney, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje among others. Jordan and his team reproduce the 1940s Los Angeles atmosphere faithfully, glam and sunburn during the day, flash and excess after dark.

Every actor that has portrayed Marlowe naturally puts their own spin on the character. Neeson is not the hard-boiled tough guy, but cross him and this grandfather-type will quickly bash your brains out. He’s closer to the Mitchum version than Bogart.

This is a fairly standard crime mystery, including the overly complicated plot and characters that seem more than they appear. If the film has flashes of familiarity, you’ve seen many similar crime stories. Neeson is fine in the role, he fits like a comfortable suit. Twenty years from now, Neeson will still be playing roles of men in their early 50s, he never ages, despite muttering, “I’m too old for this.” Don’t believe it.

Marlowe is a pleasant diversion, but hardly plows any new ground in the crime-thriller genre. If you like Neeson, you’ll know what you get.

2 thoughts on “Marlowe (film review)

  1. Wow, Liam Neeson looks like the perfect present day fit for Philip Marlowe, and your post definitely wants me to watch that picture. While I love Humphrey Bogart, my favorite historic Marlowe without any doubt is Robert Mitchum – that part was made for him!

    Liked by 1 person

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