Gus Landor, gruff and aging commissioner, is dragged back by the skin of his buttocks from his derelict cottage to investigate the murder of a West Point Military Academy student. There, he meets one of the victim’s classmates: Edgar Allan Poe, an aspiring poet and school Turk. Impressed by this ugly duckling’s sense of deduction, Landor takes him under his wing to investigate..
Scott Cooper had the perfect resume to handle a story like that of The Pale Blue Eye. Unrivaled in representing American misery in the style of a Greek tragedy, with the right dose of melancholy inherent in the disillusionment of the American dream, he approached the history and heritage of his country from the most beautiful and cruel angles. Who better than him to look into the dark romanticism of Poe, fundamental author of American culture?
Shift your flame
As expected, the recipe works really well. Well, at least at the start of cooking. The Pale Blue Eye starts with very fine displays of directing by Cooper, always serious and elegant, and perfectly adequate to his subject. By keeping only the best of what Bayard offered in writing, the film starts with an effective pace and a half-enchanting half-frosty atmosphere of snowy landscapes. The magnificent sets are a feast for the eyes and the suspense of the whodunit hooks its spectator. So much so that, during its first part, the film nicely keeps its promises and fills fans of the genre.
It smells of fir
A casting from Basel
One of the main strengths of the film is also its casting. Like he usually does, Christian Bale excels and manages to bring to his character the subtlety and the emotion delicate to transpose from the writing, so much his character is secret. His performance confirms he is training with Scott Cooper a particularly obvious duo in which each sublimates the work of the other.
It’s more Harry Melling who was expected at the turn in the role of the young Edgar Poe, because if he proved his talent in some recent productions like The Queen’s Gamehis most iconic role to date remains that of Daniel Radcliffe’s slap-headed cousin in the saga Harry Potter. And if the physical resemblance to Poe is next to none, Melling does a brilliant job of creating her character.
lovers on couch
Far from Ben Chaplin’s version in Twixtbeautiful frozen image and professorial speech like the dream of a khâgneux, or the version of John Cusack in Shadow of Evil halfway between a muscular Baudelaire or an intellectual Rambo, Melling dare to break the icon to better embody it. Language tics, uncertain attitude, improbable diction… this Poe does not play the card of literary glamor and remains above all an offbeat young man, alone aware of his genius.
We also find with pleasure a crowd of talents who come to lend their features to the secondary characters, among whom Gillian Anderson, Robert Duvall, Toby Jones, Robert Duvall or even Charlotte Gainsbourg, almost a little too nice to have moved for what we give him to play.
First snow and second knives
Netflix and kill
Unfortunately, and despite all the aforementioned qualities, the soufflé quickly ends up falling. Halfway through the film, the pace falls somewhere between the hum of references like “Edgar Poe for Dummies“ and an investigation that struggles to maintain its suspense without spilling the beans.
Flashbacks, this tool oh so risky in its use, become more and more artificial and lazy. Losing in efficiency and strength of proposal would pass again, but arrived at the revelation of the investigation, the film misses his change of tone and rocks the time of a (long) sequence in an almost total ridiculousness. A penultimate act which leaves a taste as unexpected as it is unpleasant at the conclusion of a film which had started so well. In comparison, the final twist, unoriginal and rather coarse, almost passes for a beautiful moment of emotion, in which the actors are still fighting nicely for the credibility of the film.
The Pale Blue Eye therefore joins the list of platform feature films whose creator’s ambition and originality are nipped in the bud to match a telephone model. Films whose first part realizes our wildest dreams and the second one mercilessly tramples them. Yes, such a mess inspires such hyperbole. The Poe-Cooper-Bale encounter deserved much better. She deserved something as good as the beginning of the movie.
The Pale Blue Eye is available on Netflix since January 6, 2023 in France