SYNOPSIS: West Point, 1830. A world-weary detective is hired to discreetly investigate the gruesome murder of a cadet. Stymied by the cadets’ code of silence, he enlists one of their own to help unravel the case — a young man the world would come to know as Edgar Allan Poe.
Set in 1830 wintery New York, Christian Bale plays a recluse detective, Augustus Landor who is tasked by the head of the United Stated Military Academy, Thayer (Timothy Spall) to investigate a case whereby a cadet is found hanged and subsequently has his heart mysteriously removed in the morgue.
With any other blessed detective out there, Landor needs a sidekick and right here, he teams up with an odd cadet by the name of Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling), yes that famous American horror writer if you are wondering. While Landor busy himself with the clues he has on hand, Poe’s role is to sniff around the Academy looking for some inside news before the next murder takes place.
Well for the uninitiated, The Pale Blue Eye is not an origin story of Edgar Allan Poe or a tale of how he rises from a West Point cadet to a mystery writer. In fact, the story is based on a novel by Louis Bayard whose fictional works frequently depict real-life characters. Yet the entire setup doesn’t really takes away the gothic madness and mystery element of the tale.
And with Masanobu Takayanagi’s handsome lensing, there’s an unworldly feel to the location and period. Always cold and brooding, there’s seemingly a deadly sense of the supernatural lurking around the human mind and heart.
Marking his third collaboration with Bale, Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace, Hostiles) delivers a good old engaging detective story without resorting to unnecessary violence and theatrics. It might takes a bit of patience to sit through but we can assure you that it’s worth the wait given the movie is full of complex twists, occult themes and enthusiastic performances.
And talking about performances, Harry Melling who debuts as Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter decades ago dazzled as the scene-stealing Edgar Allan Poe with his energetic and rousing rendition of the tragic writer. Other notable thespians include Simon McBurney as Captain Hitchcock, Toby Jones as the Academy’s doctor, Gillian Anderson as his wife and an unrecognisable Robert Duvall as a symbols expert.
Bale as always is a delight to watch as he plays a world-weary, lonely character whose only beloved daughter is believed to elope with a man. His character is the direct opposite of Poe. The former a man of few words that you basically can hear the caw from the crows while Poe jitters and rambles on and on. Their combination makes this mostly a dialogue-driven detective work which in ways are built on several climaxes and endings.
Netflix’s second whodunit offering after Glass Onion is a handsome piece of cinematic art by Cooper and a decent tribute to Poe’s works. Strictly for mature audiences who love a good old detective tale.
Review by Linus Tee