Adapted from Louis Bayard’s 2003 novel, this Netflix-exclusive movie is written & directed by Scott Cooper, who has given us the bizarre movies Antlers, Hostiles, and Crazy Heart. And since this is about Batman meeting Dudley Dursely, I’d say that’s about right.
In the deadly winter’s chill of 1830, retired veteran detective Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) is called to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY. There’s been a murder most foul as cadet Leroy Fry (Stephen Meier) was found hung and his heart cut out. Ouch! Who did it and why? The school supervisor’s, Capt. Hitchcock (Simon McBurney) and Superintendent Thayer (Timothy Spall), demand answers from Landor. Augustus questions the resident surgeon, Dr. Daniel Marquis (Toby Jones), and others that might have known Fry. However, one young cadet & budding poet comes forward with theories and some interesting ideas as to what might have happened. His name? Edgar Allen Poe (Harry Melling). Landor sees the value in this quirky, reserved, long-winded, and rather peculiar cadet and hires him as his secret ears and eyes on campus.
As some clues start slowly falling into place, another cadet is found hung with his heart carved out! Well, this weekend is turning out to be a real bummer. How are the two murders connected and why? Meanwhile, Poe has fallen in love with the good doctor’s daughter, Lea (Lucy Boynton) who has strange seizures. But a clue leads Landor to speak to an old occult friend of his (Robert Duvall) which moves his investigation in a new direction. It all comes down at the Marquis dinner party where Landor thinks he has everything figured out and ultimately finds the killer. Or does he? There are still 30 minutes left in the movie and a third act to play out, so what gives? Aha! Did someone say, “Twist ending?”
Scott Cooper’s adaption of Bayard’s novel is about as atmospheric as you’d want in this seedy, grisly, who-done-it Sherlockian mystery set in a bleak, colorless setting. I’ll say this, it looks magnificent with Masanobu “Masa” Takayanagi’s brilliant cinematography. And the acting is above par with some wonderful moments by Bale, Spall, Jones, and especially Melling who really has grown as an actor since his days as Dudley Dursley. If you caught his incredible work in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and The Old Guard, you’ll know what I mean. His performance here is quite impressive and even a little creepy/eerie. It’s just a shame the rest of the movie didn’t follow suit.
Cooper starts off with a good old-fashioned first-act murder that’s shrouded in mystery with decent dialogue and a good plot to get the ball rolling, but then that slow, plodding, weak second act comes around and puts you to sleep. After someone slaps you and says, “Hey! Wake up!”, the third act finally delivers a nice, powerful, twisty ending. At just over two hours, it really needed trimming and tightening up in the pace, but at least you have some great acting and a half-way decent mystery to follow. If Bale were Batman (the world’s greatest detective) in this movie, he would’ve figured it out in an hour. Rewrite!!
**Now streaming exclusively on Netflix