Oh dear, this movie promises so much and delivers so little. It is 1939 in Los Angeles and the sun is tracking golden lines across the windows. There is the world-weary detective, Philip Marlowe no less, Raymond Chandler’s gift to the genre of hard-boiled crime fiction.
A mysterious icy blonde, Clare (Diane Kruger) comes to Marlowe’s (Liam Neeson) office with a pretty conundrum. Her lover and props master at a studio, Nico Peterson, (François Arnaud) is missing and she wants Marlowe to find him. Marlowe asks the tough questions including what her husband, Cavendish (Patrick Muldoon), has to say about all this. Marlowe gets to work and quickly finds out from his friend and former colleague from the DA’s office, Bernie (Colm Meaney), Nico was killed in a hit-and-run, which conveniently crushed Nico’s skull, outside an exclusive club, where the rich and famous come to play. Clare insists she saw Nico alive and well after his supposed death.
The owner of the club, Floyd Hanson, (Danny Huston) is none too happy with Marlowe sniffing around. Marlowe meets Clare’s mother, Dorothy Quincannon, (Jessica Lange) a famous actress, who has her secrets to hide but is not afraid to tell exactly how long water should be boiled for the perfect cup of tea. The powerful studio boss, Ambassador (Mitchell Mullen) apart from quoting Faust (a throwback to his acting days at Harvard) has his fingers in many dirty pies. He is incidentally called the Ambassador as he will soon be going to England as one. Lou Hendricks (Alan Cumming), runs a nightclub and also had Nico get him things from Mexico that were not so easily available in the US. Hendricks’ chauffeur, Cedric (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) loves movies and is loyal to his boss to a point. Nico’s half-sister, Lynn (Daniela Melchior), who identified the body meets a sticky end before Marlowe has a chance to question her properly.
As Marlowe uncovers each dirty secret, he seems to be drawn deeper into the cesspool of vice that was 1930s Hollywood. While the movie is beautifully shot—that stripey golden light, the sudden showers that cause water to form glittery diamonds on the panes, and the climax in the prop house where Egyptian busts jostle around suspended crocodiles with gaping mouths is a feast for the eyes.
The ensemble cast, though elegantly dressed with fedoras, three-piece suits, berets and perfectly cut dresses are strangely disassociated from the happenings on screen. They all seem to be very obviously acting. There are exquisite sequences including one where Marlowe is being dragged through a nightclub down to a basement of horrors, another where he follows a suspect through a maze in a crypt, and one where Marlowe questions an actress, Amanda, (Seána Kerslake), who is wearing a prosthetic bloody eye socket looking like a Terminatrix for all intents and purposes.
Based on The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black, Marlowe, which is Neeson’s 100th film and sees him reuniting with award-winning director, Neil Jordan, after Michael Collins and Breakfast on Pluto, could have been so much better. Without a smart central mystery, this neo noir is all surface and no soul. “Forget it Jake, its Hollywood.”
Marlowe is currently running in theatres