Chandler gumshoe reboot high on twists, low on energy

Published date17 March 2023
Publication titleIrish Times (Dublin, Ireland)
You could easily fool yourself into thinking that Philip Marlowe is as unavoidable a presence on the big screen as Sherlock Holmes. But this is not so. It is, astonishingly, 45 years since the last theatrically released film featuring Raymond Chandler's sardonic private eye. Blame Michael Winner for (among other things) finishing Marlowe off in his famously execrable 1978 version of The Big Sleep

We may end up waiting the full half-century for another adaptation of a Chandler novel. Neil Jordan's peculiar film casts Liam Neeson as a - let's be polite - more experienced incarnation in this take on The Black-Eyed Blonde, John Banville's skilfully ventriloquised Chandler follow-up. The film offers neither a convincing re-creation of the noir aesthetic nor the sort of bold deconstruction we might expect from the Jordan of Mona Lisa and The Good Thief.

There are, to be fair, hints of the latter in later scenes, lit now in pervasive sapphire, now in traffic-light red, that bring us among a sordid underworld closer to James Ellroy. Seána Kerslake, as a sassy actor, gets to deliver strong dialogue with one eye theatrically made up after finishing a violent scene. But, for most of its duration, Marlowe (screening on Sky and in a few cinemas) trades in the flat tones of the TV movie. We all know Los Angeles is historically a Spanish city, but not quite enough remains of that heritage to justify shooting exteriors in Barcelona. A sickening yellow filter does something to exoticise the Dublin interiors.

You hardly need to be told Marlowe begins with a brittle blonde entering the protagonist's office to report a missing person. It is Diane Kruger as Clare Cavendish, and she wants Marlowe to locate her errant boyfriend, Nico Peterson (François Arnaud). The cops are convinced he was killed outside a posh country club, but the gumshoe suspects somebody else's ashes may be in the urn. Does he encounter more twists than a teenage dance in a pretzel factory (with apologies to Chandler and Banville)? Sort...

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