Director: Neil Jordan
Writer: William Monahan
Stars: Liam Neeson, Jessica Lange, Diane Kruger, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Synopsis: In late 1930s Bay City, a brooding, down on his luck detective is hired to find the ex-lover of a glamorous heiress.
When will Liam Neeson ever make a good movie again? I had hoped that it would be the case with Neil Jordan’s Marlowe, as Neeson reunites with the director who crafted one of the best films (and performances) of his career in- Michael Collins. The severely underseen Golden Lion winner contains stellar performances from Neeson, Alan Rickman, and Brendan Gleeson and needs to be seen by anyone who is a fan of the three actors named above. Reuniting with Jordan seemed like a step in the right direction for Neeson to move away from his “particular set of skills” action pictures that I frequently dubbed as our generation’s Charles Bronson in his Cannon Group era. Disposable plot, horribly shot and edited action, and a sleepwalking performance from Neeson who sees the paycheck at the end of the tunnel.
However, Marlowe is yet another “particular set of skills” movie, only set in 1930s Hollywood with Neeson frequently reminding audiences that he’s too old for this. There’s the old “light slapping” he gives to henchmen who deserve his “particular set of skills” after a rather simple case overcomplicates itself in tedious ways. Neeson plays Philip Marlowe, who, after receiving a visit from Clare Cavendish (Diane Kruger), investigates the whereabouts of Nico Peterson (François Arnaud), who is rumored to be alive, even if he has been pronounced dead. Was the wrong man pronounced dead? If so, who’s in on the conspiracy? What happened to Nico’s sister, Lynn Peterson (Daniela Melchior)? Who knows?
Running at 109 minutes, Marlowe is both amazingly breezy in going from one place to the next without placing the cards on the table and terribly languishing in pace. There’s not a single scene that contains an ounce of riveting dialogue. They’re all haphazardly delivered by A-list actors, such as Jessica Lange, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Danny Huston, Colm Meaney and Alan Cumming. Only Adewale seems to care about the material, and has a few scenes ,where his chemistry with Neeson shines ever-so-slightly, but does Jordan’s direction have to be so lifeless?
Any noir detective thriller should theoretically start out small and progressively reveal something bigger at play. Marlowe starts out small, but quickly goes “big” and introduces a wide array of characters who don’t have much importance to the main plot of the movie. It quickly starts to lose audiences by the ten minute mark, and never once recovers. The case (and screenwriting) is not interesting enough to hold people’s attention. And once the “big reveal” occurs (although there is a smart move from Neeson during that moment which made his performance slightly memorable), it’s the least surprising reveal of all time. As soon as this particular character enters the frame, you immediately know he’s the main villain by how he dresses. They never once try to hide it, which makes Marlowe’s circling to Clare’s mother (Lange) and other minor side characters feel utterly pointless.
The movie also doesn’t even have a sense of atmosphere. Cinematographer Xavi Giménez tries to make every shot look interesting (there are a few neon-colored splashes that are fun to see on the big screen), but Jordan’s direction is so bereft of any energy that it has no emotional impact whatsoever. What’s more, tight action scenes are hampered by the most ridiculous elevator music possible. Neeson fighting two henchmen in a claustrophobic setting? Why don’t we put some smooth jazz during that scene. Or how about the sound of birds tweeting you’d hear in Looney Tunes cartoons after a character gets hit in the head with a hammer and is dizzy, but this time used when a character gets Tommy gunned to death? Yeah, it’s very bad.
At this point, I don’t ever think that Liam Neeson will make a good movie again, even with a director like Jordan at the helm. The scripts he picks are easy roles for a paycheck, but they’re so tedious to watch you wonder why he even bothers making those films. He’s unfortunately been typecast in these basic action films, but he needs to get away from them. Marlowe could’ve been his way out, but he and Jordan retread the same elements from his dull action pictures. I guess we’ll never see Neeson make another good movie again.