Friday, December 23, 2022

An eccentric detective at West Point


A great cast can't save The Pale Blue Eye, a gloomy melodramatic story about a detective (Christian Bale) who investigates the murder of a cadet who was hanged before his heart was cut from his chest. Adapting his screenplay from a novel by Louis Bayard, director Scott Cooper delivers a chilly drama that brings a historical figure -- Edgar Allan Poe -- into a plot weighted with secrets. Poe (Harry Melling) did attend West Point, but the story is pure fiction. Bale's Augustus Landor invites Poe to join him in trying to solve a crime that has the Academy on edge. In addition to Bale, the movie casts Gillian Anderson and Toby Jones as a husband and wife whose son (Harry Lawtey) also attends West Point. Their daughter (Lucy Boynton) catches Poe's eye. Charlotte Gainsbourg portrays a waitress at a local pub who carries on an affair with Bale's Augustus Landor. Yes, that's Robert Duvall as an expert on witchcraft whom Landor consults. Suggestions of the paranormal waft through the wintery depictions of West Point, where Timothy Spall takes a turn as the school's embattled superintendent. A moody depiction of 19th-century life turns Cooper's movie into a mystery that's a bore or perhaps "chore" is the better word. The gothic environment Cooper creates is credibly somber but the drama feels freeze-dried.

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