Neil Jordan, the maverick filmmaker behind cult classics The Company of Wolves and Interview with a Vampire makes a welcome return to the multiplex with Marlowe. Starring Jordan’s regular collaborator Liam Neeson, Marlowe’s an ode to classic detective films, with the Irish thesp playing Raymond Chandler’s famous antihero, Philip Marlowe.
There’ve been countless iterations of the character over the decades, including Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep, and Elliot Gould in The Long Goodbye. Neeson, as one would expect, lends the role a heap of gravitas. This Marlowe is older, world-weary and has a voice more gravelly than a driveway.
The set-up feels so well-worn it borders on pastiche. Neeson’s private eye is visited by a glamorous dame, requesting he looks into the disappearance of her lover. There’s something very soothing about settling into this hard-boiled yarn. It’s got all the well-worn comfort of an old pair of jeans.
Jordan has decked out his mystery with a stellar cast: Diane Kruger brings a hell of a lot of both femme and fatale as Clare Cavendish, Marlowe’s client. Danny Huston is reliably shady as club owner Floyd Hanson, while the legendary Jessica Lange plays bitter ex-film star Dorothy Quincannon with a generous dash of Norma Desmond.
It’s Alan Cumming, however, who’s the real delight, serving up a thick slice of juicy roast ham as crime lord Lou Hedricks (Cumming seems to be competing with Babylon’s Tobey Maguire for the title of ‘Most Scenery-Chewing Mob Boss’)…
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Marlowe, however, is how unsurprising it is. Paying homage to a beloved subgenre is all well and good, but some more effort should be made to subvert expectations. That’s something Jordan typically excels at: he turned the fairy tale on its head in The Company of Wolves and delivered one of cinema’s most infamous rug-pulls with The Crying Game.
Still, Marlowe is an enjoyable, if overly familiar, homage to film noir. You may enjoy it, but you’ll soon forget it: it ain’t Chinatown.
Neil Jordan returns with a handsomely mounted, if risk-averse, throwback to Golden Age thrillers.
Marlowe is now showing at the Eden Cinemas