Review by Dan Skip Allen
Philip Marlowe has been brought to life more than a few times on the big screen. The Big Sleep, which stars Humphrey Bogart as the titular detective, is my favorite among many films with this iconic literary character. Based on The Black Eyed Blonde by author John Banville, Marlowe — the latest film about this famous literary detective — is coming out soon in theaters, stars the Taken star himself, Liam Neeson. It's been a while since one of these films has come out, so why not put another one out now?
Detective Philip Marlowe (Liam Neeson) is going about his day when he is approached by a beautiful blonde woman, Clare Cavendish (Diane Kruger). She hires him to investigate the disappearance of her husband, Niko Peterson (Francois Arnaud). Marlowe comes across many men and women in his search for this man who poses a key to a larger scheme that has larger implications in Bay City, California, Hollywood, and abroad.
This film has a lot of twists and turns before it gets to the ending that nobody sees coming. The myriad of characters in the movie all have different motivations and backgrounds that play into why they do and say the things they do. It's a giant puzzle that needs to be put together by the main man Philip Marlowe. He has many obstacles to get over, but we all know Liam Neeson always gets his man — even if it's in a period piece set in 1939.
I'm a big fan of neo-noir and detective films set in the '30s-'60s. They just bring an element that is so enjoyable to me. Films like Chinatown and The Maltese Falcon are among the best in this genre. Marlowe takes this genre and runs with it, and it's fantastic. There are so many characters and subplots that it's hard to keep track of them all, but it's fun following breadcrumbs to see where they lead. That's what makes these kinds of films entertaining to watch.
Liam Neeson has made a name for himself as an action star in the last decade. Even though he's up there at age 70 and counting, he continues to take roles that put him into these situations where he must do a lot of running, jumping, and fighting scenes. In this film, he has a few action set pieces, but none to the extent of his other movies in the last fifteen or so years. He is more reserved in the character of Detective Philip Marlowe. He has more dialogue and is less of an intimidating force, and more of a nice older man looking for this suspect. People tend to take him for granted, and Neeson plays up these aspects of the character nicely.
With neo-noir films also comes the femme fatale, a female character with a darker side to her, rather than a soft feminine side like most people would expect. Diane Kruger plays the femme fatale in Marlowe, and she sends Neeson's detective in all kinds of different directions. She has more to her than meets the eye, but the title character can't figure out her true angle. She keeps most of her true motivations close to the vest. She has a lot to hide. Her mother, played by Jessica Lange, tries to help Marlowe by creating him away from her, but he doesn't listen. He is a man of his word, and he is a bulldog in his search for her disappeared husband. He may be barking up the wrong tree.
Marlowe is a fantastic trip down memory lane for me. I grew up watching Humphrey Bogart films as a kid, and this reminded me of a few of them, especially since Bogart played Detective Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep. Neeson takes after Bogart as this character perfectly; he's aloof and standoffish, but also dogged in his nature to get to the bottom of this mysterious disappearance. Kruger is very good as the femme fatale, and the rest of the cast is stellar in all their roles, including Jessica Lange. Marlowe weaves together a fantastic story and good direction keeping all the subplots in order. I love this period in films, and all the clothes, cars, and production designs were on point. This is a fun film for fans of this genre and classic film fans in general.
Marlowe hits theaters on February 15.