When a film baring the caliber of talent – both in front of and behind the camera – that Marlowe has, one has to wonder how it can go so wrong. Director Neil Jordan reunites with Liam Neeson for the first time since Breakfast on Pluto for their third collaboration. Adding stars Jessica Lange, Diane Kruger, Alan Cumming, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje to a period Noir based on the iconic character created by Raymond Chandler, it would be fair to have high expectations. Sadly, Marlowe dashes those expectations immediately.

Heiress Clare Cavendish (Kruger) hires private detective Philip Marlowe (Neeson) to find her missing lover in 1930s Hollywood. During the course of the investigation, Marlowe navigates a number of familiar noir archetypes: the wealthy mother (Lange), a murderous club owner, drug dealers, unnamed goons, the jealous husband, and the disadvantaged driver (Akinnuoye-Agbaje). The story, one of greed, blackmail, murder, and lies, is as generic a color-by-numbers mystery. To summarize it further would be redundant. One expects more from screenwriter William Monahan (The Departed).

Marlowe so earnestly wants to be classic noir that it comes across as satirical. The first lines delivered by Neeson are as stiff as the corpses that pile up during the story. One half expects Neeson to wink at the camera after the 80th time he lights a cigarette and mutters, “Fair enough.” Instead, the film takes itself too seriously. Only Lange brings any energy to the screen. Neeson, despite having the look and vocal timbre fit the bill, feels out of place. Kruger plays the role of seductress without an ounce of allure. Despite these issues, the cast is not always bad. At least everyone looks the part. Unfortunately, the parts are as shallow as the puddles reflecting the neon lights of the Hollywood’s seedy clubs. Of course, this stereotypical visage makes its obligatory appearance throughout the film as well.

Marlowe Liam Neeson

Visually, the film looks great. The 1930s are fully realized, with the costumes and makeup highlighting the period setting. Xavi Giménez‘s cinematography beautifully homages classic films of the era, using saturated hues of gold and brown to craft the modern noir aesthetic. The film’s jazzy score by David Holmes injects some energy to the movie.

Clocking in at under two hours, Jordan wisely keeps the film moving along. Still, the runtime could be shortened considerably. Maybe light fewer cigarettes or trim any of the overly-repeated character names? Marlowe manages to become a convoluted mess in the second act before succinctly tying everything up in act three. Perhaps a little more time in the editing room might have made for a more streamlined end product.

Ultimately, Marlowe is a run-of-the-mill film noir. It offers little more than cursory entertainment without bringing anything new to the genre. Instead, Marlowe replicates familiar sounds, images, and storylines. The talented cast looks great but are wasted in shallow roles. The greatest mystery of all is how so many solid components cannot come together to create a modern classic.

Josh’s Rating: 6/10

What do you think of Marlowe? Let us know in the comments below! Watch Marlowe in theaters. Open Road Films distributes.

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