Edgar Allan Poe, Detective
Since most literary experts credit Edgar Allan Poe with creating the fictional detective genre, it makes sense to put him in his own whodunnit. Not exactly a trailblazing idea since projects like 2012’s The Raven already did that, but the new Pale Blue Eye follows its own path incorporating the famed horror author.
But before getting to Poe, the story rolls out with Christian Bale as a loner retired detective living near West Point in 1830. Asked to investigate the possible suicide of a cadet found hanging from a tree, the detective gets help from another cadet, the not-yet famous poet Poe. In the historical fiction devised by author Louis Bayard, the future writer of Murders in the Rue Morgue shows sound instincts with a case that grows more gruesome and confounding.
Filming in wintery Pennsylvania, director Scott Cooper emphasizes a cold and gloomy world full of harsh conditions where violence thrives. Along with shooting on location, the project’s top quality production values come from grim looking buildings along with heavy, dark period costumes that add to the melancholic atmosphere. Cooper, whose varied track record includes Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace once again teams with Bale to elicit what the actor usually provides—a solid performance.
Others like Gillian Anderson, Robert Duvall, and Toby Jones do just fine, with standout work coming from the versatile Harry Melling’s interpretation of Poe as a cadet suited to intellectual pursuits rather than gritty soldiering. Much as the cast tries, however, none overcome the story’s outrageous elements delivered in a slow and meticulous manner rather than with compelling cinematic excitement.