The Pale Blue Eye movie review: Christian Bale and Edgar Allen Poe capture a killer in a sleepy, hollow mystery

Posh, but lackluster, addictive Scott Cooper finds Christian Bale teaming up with Beau several years before the detective story was invented.

A serial killer epic set along the frozen banks of the Hudson River during the winter of 1830, Scott Cooper’s “Pale Blue Eye” may be too cold to melt the full potential of its premise, but this well-furnished location still isn’t. Exists has some fun tapping into the smarter side of the Louis Bayard novel from which it was adapted: if young Edgar Allen Poe was involved in solving a series of murders, it would only be a matter of time before everyone began to suspect that he was. behind them.

Harry Melling’s heroically bizarre performance as a death-obsessed poet has the power to lull viewers into the same trap, even if it seems like we should know better. Then again, most people don’t know anything about Poe’s short time at West Point, where supposedly his dapper nature and southern bent made him an irresistible target for some of his more abusive fellow students.

While it’s true that Poe is better remembered for inventing the modern detective story than for committing the perfect crime, The Pale Blue Eye found him with a drive to kill and a cleverness to get away with. Moreover, the vague parallels between these events and Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue can’t help but give this film a cool whiff of “Shakespeare in love” – ​​one way or another, it’s hard to look for a new genre. Without getting your hands a little dirty in the process.

And yet, despite all the preamble, Poe is not the protagonist of this story, nor even necessarily its narrative heart. That distinction falls to Christian Bale’s grieving, alcoholic Augustus Landor, whose mind has been hazy since the death of his wife and the subsequent disappearance of their teenage daughter–perhaps not as hazy as the ravens-filled roads that run along the river outside his home and immersed in this film’s ghostly atmosphere, But Landor is clearly a long way from Sherlock Holmes.

Unfortunately for Brevet Brigadier General Sylvanus Thayer (an underused Timothy Spall, all shakes in the neck), Landor is the only game in town, and someone needs to figure out who killed a cadet and remove his heart before Andrew Jackson shuts down West Point. Neither Poe nor Cooper is particularly convinced that closing the academy would be a serious consequence — “The Pale Blue Eye” makes some modest nods toward the dehumanizing effects of youth militarization — but murder naturally tickles the young man’s imagination, and it’s not long before the brilliant writer begins to volunteering his services to the uncertain Landor.

The kind of movie where people go on spouting things like “apocalyptic work” in warm English accents and spend their nights watching pretty young things unleash their piano solos by candlelight – or, in Landour’s case, lounging with a local waitress played by Charlotte Gainsbourg – “The Pale Blue Eye” began to double as the harsh but fantastical origin story of both Edgar Allen Poe and also the detective genre he would later help shape. The best stretches of Cooper’s slender, unhurried script find the film checking those two boxes at the same time, as its mystical charm enriches its human crimes (and vice versa) until it becomes the boundary that separates this world from the other. Blurred like the one between sanity and madness.

The Landor/Poe dynamic is too subtle to be reduced to mere logic versus emotion, or left-brain versus right-brain, but it’s fair to say that sugar’s wistful practicality makes him an intriguing partner for the poet’s fickle imagination, especially when the latter falls in love with Léa Marquez ( Lucy Boynton), the ailing daughter of West Point’s resident diagnostician (a reluctant Toby Jones, who adds to the murder row of a British cast that also includes Simon McBurney and Gillian Anderson).

While Bell can do little to revive a guarded character and his demeanor isn’t quite so obvious until a second viewing the first might not be intriguing enough to entice him, he and Mealing have some fun outside of a film that, by usual Cooper standard, seems determined to be as consistent as possible. ; The director of “Out of the Furnace” and “Hostiles” is never much for luxury, though “The Pale Blue Eye” is refreshingly modest when compared to his previous work.

If only the mystery Landor and Beau were determined to solve were as thorny or turbulent as their partnership. Fittingly, the slick detective story is so crude, the lack of convincing suspects makes the case feel unworthy of its characters, there’s no mounting body count and no wild cameo from Robert Duvall (played by an eccentric phrenologist named Jean-Pépé!) Sufficient to keep Pale Blue Eye from losing sight of its potency for extended periods of time. There’s plenty of pathos beneath the surface, but the film’s mystery is structured in such a way that it doesn’t reveal the insidious distortions of faith that have been hiding under Hudson until it’s too late to appreciate them.

“Men will do anything to cheat death,” Ginsbourg’s character notes at one point, but will our dear Mr. Landor be weighed down? The answer “never” would have been more satisfying than what Poe: First Class leaves us here, if only because the poet had to live another 15 years before he understood what all the crows were trying to tell him.

Grade: C+

Netflix will release “The Pale Blue Eye” in select theaters on Friday, December 23rd. It will be available to stream on Netflix starting Friday, January 6th.

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