Crimes and mysteries always intrigue us in cinema, especially when they involve famous historical figures like Edgar Allan Poe in this 2022 movie, The Pale Blue Eye.
The story takes place in the first half of the 18th century when a young cadet is found hanged in the woods near the military academy at West Point.
All of the officers lack investigative experience, so they ask for help from a veteran who was formerly a detective in New York.
The man does not live far away, and although he is initially hesitant, not wanting to have anything more going on with the military hierarchy, he finally accepts the assignment.
Upon arriving at West Point, he first examines the body, immediately determining it was not a suicide.
Indeed the victim shows signs someone hit him from behind and, moreover, scratches on his hands, demonstrating how he desperately tried to free himself from the rope.
Even more gruesome is that, after the death, some stranger broke into the medical room and opened the boy’s chest, ripping out his heart.
The detective initially does not have many clues to investigate except for a torn piece of paper with fragments of words, which he tries to decipher with a curious and perceptive cadet.
The latter is indeed Edgar Allan Poe, a young fellow barely familiar with military life and with the poet’s soul. However, he is also a keen observer who analyzes evidence with great composure.
After this collaboration begins, another murder with the same methodology disrupts their investigation, while officers become increasingly impatient to find a culprit.
In that place of strict regulations and great moral rigor, unfortunately, no one wants to talk, and everyone seems to hide some horrible secret, including even the elderly detective himself.
The dark passion of the human soul
Although the plot is a decent intriguing mystery, that’s not why I recommend this movie.
First, we have the excellent direction of Scott Cooper, whose touching family revenge Out of the Furnace, which you can read more about here, I have unforgettable memories of.
While filming it, he met Christian Bale, creating a bond of friendship leading them to work together again in this $80 million-plus production.
This high budget features an elegant setting in the interiors with warm and intimate lighting, contrasted with the cold and desaturated photography in the exteriors.
A difference that also influences the various moments of the story, from the cold clues analysis of the murders to the more passionate moments where the characters clash.
Indeed, one of the winning aspects of Louis Bayard‘s original novel was cleverly including the figure of Edgar Allan Poe.
Although he initially seems to be a secondary element placed out of curiosity within this historical context, after a while, it becomes clear he is instead an essential piece of the narrative.
Moreover, many aspects of the story blatantly have the dark and mysterious atmospheres from the brilliant American writer, remixing the horror style with the psychological insight of the protagonist’s dreams and visions.
Every corner of this world is haunted by ghosts, just as each night we navigate the nightmares of guilt and anger of a man who no longer has any family.
The same name of Bale’s character, Augustus Landor, is a reference to The Landor’s Cottage, a strange Poe short story where he basically just describes a house.
In essence, The Pale Blue Eye is a historical crime that engages and thrills with a few compelling twists and turns, wisely distributed throughout the nearly two-hour running time of this 2022 movie.
An important cast making the difference
The greatest attraction and principal place in The Pale Blue Eye cover obviously belong to Christian Bale, the undisputed star of this 2022 movie.
I can sum up my opinion of him in a few words: this actor is incapable of bad acting, being a talent born for the spotlight since he was extremely young.
His character offers anger and sorrow, intelligence and weakness all at once, being the apex around which all the threads of a complex plot move, yet ultimately unfolds without inconsistencies.
However, I preferred the performance of young Harry Melling considerably more, playing an equally young Edgar Allan Poe, still at the beginning of his poetic career, an art which unfortunately would bring him only misery and loneliness.
The actor convincingly brings to the stage the writer’s curious and morbid nature, along with his estrangement from a world that would recognize his genius only after his death.
Simply terrific is the family with which the lives of these two characters will eventually intertwine; upon them all, we have the equally flawless Toby Jones, always perfect and elegant in every scene.
As his wife, we next get an unrecognizable Gillian Anderson, the well-known TV star we all recognize for The X-Files series.
Here she is, a woman smiling on the surface and actually aching for the impossible happiness of her children, unable to have relationships or even everyday life.
To the arrogant and violent brother played by Harry Lawtey, we have a sweet and dark Lucy Boynton who, along with young Poe, is the best character in this story.
I want to tell you more about this movie, yet I might spoil your experience by revealing the few significant twists in this slow and enveloping story.