What is Marlowe?
As bad business takes a toll on private detective Philip Marlowe (Liam Neeson), a beautiful blonde hires him to find her ex-lover, which proves to be part of a bigger mystery.
MARLOWE (2022) is a movie that reminds me that we probably should have more Raymond Chandler adaptations. There’s nothing that will probably ever match THE BIG SLEEP starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and there’s been an adaptation of most of his novels of varying quality but I wish we’d get a kind of Poroit or Holmes-esque series of adaptations with one singular actor. Phillip Marlowe is the archetypal private detective alongside Sam Spade and even if you’ve never read or watched one of his films, you’ve got a rough ideal of his personality by his many parodies or homages.
Marlowe is an adaptation of The Black Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black (pen name of John Banville), not actually a Chandler novel at all. Having read the book, I actually recommend pick it up with the caveat that the writing isn’t actually very faithful to Raymond Chandler. “Black’s” version of Phillip Marlowe is a lot hornier, morally flexible, and tolerant (even friendly with a homosexual bartender) than the one in the books. This isn’t a bad thing but purists might balk at the slightly more flawed version of the character.
The big change of Marlowe (2022) from The Black Eyed Blonde is primarily Liam Neeson’s casting in the role. The actor is in phenomenal physical shape for his age but his age is seventy and that is something that hangs over a lot of the scenes. He might be able to pass for his fifties but I can’t help but think of his age when he’s being romantically paired with Diane Kruger (45) while her character’s mother’s actress, Jessica Lange (72) was Liam’s wife in Rob Roy.
This wouldn’t be an issue if not for the fact the movie is set in 1939 and the characters’ backstories are strongly affected by their ages. Diane Kruger’s character, Claire Cavendish, is the daughter of a massive film star and Dorothy Quincannon is said former film star. Which wouldn’t be an issue if not for the fact that the Hollywood film industry wouldn’t exist at the time that Mrs. Quincannon was a young woman. Liam Neeson also says he’s old enough to be her father so it’s not like they’re massively underplaying their ages. It’s just something where the movie would have benefited from being set in, say, 1959 instead.
Still, if not for this incredibly noticeable factoid, the story is excellent and I give it high marks. The plot is classic noir and you can basically tell when characters are lying to Phillip Marlowe by their lips moving. Mrs. Cavendish (Diane Kruger) comes to Marlowe’s office, wants him to find her missing lover. He’s dead, his head crushed in a car accident, but she believes that he’s still alive. What will follow involves the Hollywood studio system, dope, and a few other twists and turns.
The movie is a little too heavy on the private eye cliches but they’re rare enough that anyone but huge fans of the genre will probably find them refreshing. Liam Neeson does an excellent Marlowe throughout being both dogged in his pursuit of the truth as well as sarcastically flippant wherever possible. The ending is a bit darker than normal and I don’t think literary Marlowe would have let it lie the way he does in the film but perfectly true to the genre.
In conclusion, I recommend checking this film out. It got a surprising thrashing in the reviews but I don’t think that’s fair at all. It was certainly entertaining and if you can get over the casting (moving it to 1959 in my head certainly helped) then I think it is a great film.