The best lines illuminate the dyke lead, who we find out is a prude, doesn't have sex with her best female friend, doesn't like porn or group sex, and has a strong sex drive. She's a private investigator, which hardly seems believable; but then she's only asked at first to locate a missing person. The film's milieu is poetry. The murder victim is a young girl in a poetry class. None of the poetry that's spoken during the film is the least bit good, a missed opportunity. The male actors playing the poets have no charisma. One yearns for anyone with the sophistication of Clifton Webb in "The Dark Corner" or some illumination of the whole poetry angle's corruption. This all seems to fall flat. Lawyer Marton Csokas generates a few sparks.
The lead is the attractive Susie Porter, who gets to narrate her way through. In true noir style, she follows a non-linear detective path, immersed in the scene and somehow winning through to a solution. Along the way, she has an affair with Kelly McGillis, quite explicit. That was not enough to build tension. Too many flat lines killed it. I got the feeling that the adaptation/screenplay left Porter hanging too much. She needed more to build intensity. Mark Stevens had it with Lucille Ball and "white suit" William Bendix. In this movie, the build of tension is entirely missing. Events come and go and no clear impact results. Sometimes, whole threads are buried, as when Porter receives a threatening phone call or two.
The screenwriter, Anne Kennedy, appears responsible. Her film vita is very sparse, this movie in 2000 and "Crush" in 1992. I assume that the novel provided ample material for the adaptation.
Not a total loss or mess, with good locations and cinematography, with interesting performances, still the movie is a missed opportunity. "Maltese" took 3 tries. I feel that to set a consistently intriguing noir feeling takes direction and editing that are missing here. It's very much a matter of timing, length of shots and subtle composition, acting expressions and pointed dialog. Otherwise, the effort doesn't gel.