Liam Neeson still gets a couple of stunts in — of course he does — but otherwise, this is a refreshing change of pace for the actor.
In Marlowe, Liam Neeson joins the lofty lineup of actors who have stepped into the shoes of Raymond Chandler's titular detective, famously played by Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, and Elliott Gould. These are big boots to fill — and, if you’ve been paying attention to Neeson’s career over the last decade or so, you’ll be aware that he hasn’t exactly been stretching himself, dramatically speaking.
But Marlowe is something of a happy anomaly in Neeson’s filmography, because it has more than just adrenaline-pumping ambitions. Written by director Neil Jordan (of Michael Collins fame) and William Monahan (the screenwriter behind The Departed), the 1930s Hollywood-set plot is steeped in noir’s characteristic cynicism, giving it the seductive pull of that well-loved genre. It’s true that a not insignificant portion of the dialogue is so hard-boiled you can see the cracks — a clunkiness that’s repeated in a couple of the phoned-in supporting performances and the movie’s awkward action sequences. However, with a couple of bright spots in the starry cast, handsome production values, and a labyrinthine plot that just about passes muster as homage and not muddle, there are enough noir trappings here to keep the movie slinking along well enough, even if it ultimately isn't nearly as memorable as Marlowe’s previous screen incarnations.
Even if Marlowe’s behind-the-scenes connections prove disappointing — The Departed this is not — some of the onscreen talent have the opposite effect. In particular, Alan Cumming (as a Southern gangster), Jessica Lange (as a fading Hollywood star), and Ian Hart (as an LA cop) spruce things up with their performances, which range from committed to campily energetic. Their presence goes a good way to livening up the movie, particularly when it drifts into disinterestedness at the hands of some of the supporting cast’s half-hearted work.