“The Memorable Case of Mr. Poe” on Netflix: Murder Collects Hearts – Culture
Once a large raven flutters in front of the camera in an icy landscape that the young hero of the story is also crossing. And of course one should think of a very famous poem, half expect the raven to open its beak and croak in a human voice “Nevermore”, however strange and fantastic, that’s the point: isn’t everything possible in the world the poet and scary prince Edgar Allan Poe?
Scott Coopers Movie “The Memorable Case of Mr. Poe” plays with the kind of expectations associated with Poe’s work – but it doesn’t live up to them. Before he became a writer, in 1830, Edgar Allan Poe was a cadet at West Point. The film uses this rather prosaic fact for an invented detective story in which scary things happen, but a raven remains a raven for the time being – and as such does not cause a stir.
A young soldier was found hanged on the banks of the Hudson River, and as if the death of a ward wasn’t bad enough, the corpse disappears and reappears mutilated: where a heart used to beat, only a bloody one gapes Hole. For the young Edgar Allan Poe, who happens to be drawn into the investigation, the deliberate removal of this most poetic of all organs leads to only one conclusion: there is a poet behind the murders.
Because the commanders in chief of the academy fear the scandal, they prefer to bring in a kind of private investigator – the former New York police officer Augustus “Gus” Landor. Conveniently, he lives nearby and is also known for his pragmatic interrogation methods and code-cracking expertise. “Counterinsurgency” is also on his resume. Surely someone like that can convict a serial killer or a corpse molester with possible occult tendencies.
After his horror film “Antlers” from 2021, Cooper stayed with the uncanny, based on the novel of the same name by Louis Bayard. Apart from cuts, he filmed it quite faithfully. He even manages to translate the many allusions to the works of Edgar Allan Poe and the uncertainties that the narrator Gus Landor keeps spreading into images. The film is most impressive on the visual level.
Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, who has known how to photograph tough men in the snow since working on The Gray with Liam Neeson, has captured the wintry Academy, the icy Hudson and the recruits’ uniforms like classic paintings. Soldiers in the black and white of the snow-covered forests, poets and detectives by candlelight, this is reminiscent of the costume epic “Barry Lyndon”, with which Stanley Kubrick in 1975 reinvented the visual language and camera work of cinema.
However, the acting guard that the film deploys seems a bit lost in these through-composed images. Christian Bale as Landor almost completely disappears behind his huge mustache, Gillian Anderson and Charlotte Gainsbourg appear to have been wasted in supporting roles. Harry Melling, who plays Dudley Dursley in the “Harry Potter” films, the sorcerer’s apprentice’s spoiled cousin, surprises as Edgar Allan Poe – he manages the awkward language of the young poet and his stilted demeanor very well. You shouldn’t ask how authentic it is, but it’s definitely entertaining.
As are the allusions to Poe’s works, which are often better hidden than the raven that sits right in front of the camera. Bayard and Cooper have fun placing all sorts of motifs that could have led to works like “The Stolen Letter” or “The Treacherous Heart” in later years. Deciphering this is almost more exciting than the investigations at the military academy, which drag on a little until the big twist at the end that I already anticipated.
The skilful weave of fiction and facts, of invented crime stories and, at the time the film was made, still unwritten world literature, works out in an amazing way. The film draws its viewers into a maelstrom of images and quotes, of false leads and surprising connections. What he lacks, only, is a heart.
The Pale Blue Eye, USA 2022. – Director: Scott Cooper. Book: Scott Cooper after Louis Bayard. Camera: Masanobu Takayanagi. Starring: Christian Bale, Harry Melling, Lucy Boynton. Netflix, 128 minutes. in the movie theater. Streaming start: 1/6/2023.