Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange, Ian Hart, Patrick Muldoon, Danny Huston
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… engrossing and diverting …
The titular Marlowe here is the hard-bitten and relentless private investigator from Raymond Chandler’s novels. But this film is actually based on a latterday book (The Black-Eyed Blonde) by John Banville. In any event, we’re in archetypally Chandleresque territory. The year is 1939, the setting is Los Angeles, there’s a quorum of whisky drinking and hard drug abuse, and the other characters include the obligatory femme fatale and some heavily-built thugs.
Philip Marlowe (Liam Neeson) is employed – as he often is – by a glamourous heiress who wants him to track down a missing man. In this case, she is one Clare Cavendish (Diane Kruger), and her absent lover is a ne’er-do-well – who may or may not be dead – with connections in the film industry. None of the other protagonists are exactly moral paragons. They include Clare’s vivacious and cunning mother Dorothy (a memorable Jessica Lange) and corrupt whip-smart businessman Lou Hendricks (Alan Cumming). They’ve all got their own agendas, and the plot of course thickens.
Marlowe is being touted in some quarters as a classic film noir. It’s nowhere near that level, and there have been a great many superior ones over the decades. But it’s engrossing and diverting in its limited and generic way, and there are some very funny lines. The camera work is top-notch, especially in the nocturnal scenes. (There’s a particularly visually striking and nightmarish scene involving a sort of private mortuary in an exclusive club.) And the diverse period music – from Billie Holiday to The Mills Brothers – is wonderful.