Sunday, March 31, 2024

The Pale Blue Eye

Movie Name:
The Pale Blue Eye
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Scott Cooper
Starring: Christian Bale, Harry Melling, Toby Jones, Timothy Spall, Gillian Anderson, Simon McBurney, Lucy Boynton, Fred Hechinger, Harry Lawtey, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Joey Brooks
Genre: Crime, Mystery
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review
Scott Cooper is back, once again collaborating with lead actor Christian Bale (this is their third collaboration, following "Out of the Furnace" and "Hostiles"). "The Pale Blue Eye" takes place in 1830 and follows the story of retired detective Augustus Landor, who lives by himself, and somewhat isolated in the West Point area (near Buffalo, NY). He is a widower, and his daughter Mattie ran away a few years back. He's tasked by West Point's Superintendent Thayer with uncovering what happened with one of the young cadets from the institution, one by the name of Leroy Fry, who was found hanged. Landor is informed that after the hanging, Fry's heart was actually removed from his body. While examining the corpse, he finds a fragment of a note, which indicates he had gone to the locale in order to meet someone. Landor enlists another cadet from the Academy, Edgar Allan Poe (who is also a poet), to help him uncover what has happened. As their investigation continues, another cadet is found hanged, this time around with heart and genitals removed. A third cadet also disappears. Landor assumes the third one fled the institution since he assumed he'd be next in line to be killed. Landor and Poe suspect that the family of Dr. Daniel Marquis may be involved in what is taking place, particularly his son and daughter, as she suffers from random seizures and some ancient rituals may be involved in attempting to cure her from those. As Landor and Poe get closer to unveiling what is taking place, their own lives become dangerously close to being jeopardized. 
"The Pale Blue Eye" is a film where there's much to admire, though writer/director Scott Cooper also leaves some aspects of the narrative slightly shallow in terms of development. The director is able to set in motion a series of unexplained murders, in somewhat of an isolated area, within the confinements of a strict military school. It brings to mind at times the setting for Rob Reiner's "A Few Good Men", only in the case of Scott Cooper's film, the action takes place over a century before the events of the Aaron Sorkin adaptation. The film is successful in illustrating the ties between the different characters, providing just enough color to some of them which the actors bring even further to life with their committed performances. There should have been a bit more attention to some of these characters, namely the female characters, embodied by Gillian Anderson, Lucy Boynton and Charlotte Gainsbourg, all of them excellent performers, who sadly have very little material to work with. Those characters themselves deserved a bit more time just to fully bring them to life, aside from their typified aspects and range (Gillian Anderson for instance plays the matriarch who is modeled a bit after Mary Tyler Moore's character from "Ordinary People", but not as icy, whereas Lucy Boynton's Lea could have benefited from being shown a bit more about her demeanor). The central aspect to the narrative hangs on Landor and Edgar Allan Poe's relationship, which is indeed well defined and characterized, though Allan Poe comes across a bit one note, whereas Landor is a far more well rounded character: he has something about him that marries the clinical eye of the researcher, with the bruised man whose life has brought him more pain than he can handle. The cast is uniformly solidly, with the stupendous Christian Bale creating another solid character, with great support from Toby Jones, Timothy Spall, Gillian Anderson and the luminous Charlotte Gainsbourg. Harry Melling's version of Allan Poe is not memorable, with the character coming across as a bit gratuitously aiming to be slight/eccentric, but falling more into a cliché, than an actual real, dimensional character. The production team is solid, including Masanobu Takayanagi's cinematography, Howard Shore's score, Stefania Cella's production design, and Kasia Walicka Maimone's costumes. An interesting film from an underrated storyteller.