What “The Pale Blue Eye,” a gothic mystery-thriller tailored by director Scott Cooper from Louis Bayard’s 2006 novel, could lack in absolutely propulsive storytelling and constant narrative focus is greater than made up for by its good-looking bodily manufacturing and lovely camerawork. For its visible attraction alone it’s value a theatrical go to forward of its Netflix premiere subsequent month.
Cooper is a vivid, intense, deliberate filmmaker, as evidenced by such previous movies as “Crazy Heart,” “Out of the Furnace” and “Hostiles.” He doesn’t make it simple on viewers as he works to envelop them in darkish, typically harsh environments and a gallery of haunted, deeply lived-in characters. From his arguably finest image, the 2015 gangster drama “Black Mass” (sorry, “Crazy Heart” followers), to maybe his least profitable, the grim 2021 style pic “Antlers,” Cooper is an actor’s director whose performers’ efforts are likely to eclipse the fabric at hand. Cooper’s prior expertise as an actor (“Gods and Generals,” “Get Low,”) has served him and his casts particularly nicely.
Such is the case as soon as once more within the 1830-set “The Pale Blue Eye,” which reunites Cooper for the third time, after “Furnace” and “Hostiles,” with the fearlessly proficient Christian Bale. An appearing chameleon, who most just lately made a meal of his Pacino-inflected, one-eyed surgeon in David O. Russell’s interval curio “Amsterdam,” Bale stars as Augustus Landor, a widowed, retired New York Metropolis constable introduced on to research the obvious suicide of a West Level cadet named Fry (Steven Maier).
Provided that it’s nonetheless the early years of the now-famed army academy, the powers that be — Col. Sylvanus Thayer (Timothy Spall), the varsity’s first superintendent, and his second-in-command, Capt. Ethan Hitchcock (Simon McBurney) — need Augustus to unravel the case shortly and discreetly to protect West Level’s burgeoning status.
However velocity is off the desk when Augustus learns that the sufferer’s coronary heart was proficiently faraway from his chest and that the “suicide” was a murder. The native health worker, Dr. Daniel Marquis (Toby Jones), appears a bit elusive (or is it sinister?) when coping with Augustus on the case. However then once more, so do others round West Level, together with such cadets as Dr. Marquis’ charismatic and bold son, Artemus (Harry Lawtey), and risky bully Randy Ballinger (Fred Hechinger).
There is one cadet, although, who appears inclined to assist Augustus, and he’s a bit totally different, daresay extra eccentric, than his classmates. Oh, and his identify is Edgar Allan Poe — sure, that one. (Poe did, the truth is, attend West Level for seven months round that point, though no recognized killings occurred.) One thing of an outcast and a insurgent in comparison with his extra dutiful fellow cadets, aspiring poet Poe (Harry Melling of “The Queen’s Gambit”) is drawn to the darker aspects of the crime and gives a window into the cadet world for Augustus.
Poe’s florid speech and arch method, together with a witty and perceptive persona, assist foretell the long-lasting author he would turn out to be. It serves as a form of What-if? Poe origin story and one of many movie’s extra compelling features. (It’s no coincidence that considered one of Poe’s most well-known quick tales is known as “The Tell-Tale Heart” and includes a sufferer with “a pale blue eye.”)
However a second cadet killing with a much less, uh, “efficient” coronary heart elimination, sends Augustus and Poe in new instructions that introduce us extra deeply to Dr. Marquis’ offbeat household, which incorporates his erratic spouse, Julia (an over-the-top Gillian Anderson), and beautiful, musical daughter, Lea (Lucy Boynton), who’s suffering from epileptic seizures. Suffice to say, issues get fairly unusual.
As many intriguing components as there are to the eerie story, they’re blunted by the movie’s overly measured tempo and a cut up in narrative standpoint: Is that this finally Augustus’ story or Poe’s, particularly as Poe falls for Lea and an unlikely — and slightly fast — alliance is shaped.
Augustus’ alcoholism, his spouse’s loss of life, a lacking daughter and his heat relationship with a city barmaid (Charlotte Gainsbourg) additionally think about to various levels.
Nonetheless, a late-breaking, didn’t-see-it-coming twist redeems a number of the script’s much less efficient parts.
Robert Duvall, now 91, exhibits up in a small however welcome position as a phrenologist (one who research skulls) and occult skilled who gives Augustus and Poe doable perception into the weird killings. Kudos to the image’s hair and make-up designers who did ace work on the venerable actor (the specified look was reportedly that of Russian writer Leo Tolstoy) — and on the remainder of the solid as nicely. Wonderful costume and manufacturing design too.
However the cinematography by frequent Cooper collaborator Masanobu Takayanagi is the true secret weapon right here because it captures, in picture-postcard perfection, upstate New York’s wintry, ice-blue starkness (western Pennsylvania subbed for the Hudson Valley), typically set in opposition to the nice and cozy blue of the cadets’ uniforms; frames seem nearly monochrome with painterly blotches of shade. The burnished, candlelit glow of an array of inside places can also be strikingly shot. And that “ice house” scene — wow.
‘The Pale Blue Eye’
Rated: R, for some violent content material and bloody photos
Working time: 2 hours, 8 minutes
Enjoying: Begins Dec. 23, Landmark Westwood; Los Feliz 3; Bay Theater, Pacific Palisades; accessible Jan. 6 on Netflix