Review: ‘Anyone But You’ (2023), starring Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell

December 28, 2023

by Carla Hay

Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney in “Anyone But You” (Photo by Brook Rushton/Columbia Pictures)

“Anyone But You” (2023)

Directed by Will Gluck

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city and in Sydney, Australia, the comedy film “Anyone But You” (loosely based on the William Shakespeare play “Much Ado About Nothing”) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people, a few Asians and one indgenous person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After have a great first date together, a young would-be couple have angry feelings toward each other because of misunderstandings, but then they pretend to be a couple to make their respective ex-lovers jealous.

Culture Audience: “Anyone But You” will appeal primarily to fans of stars Sydney Sweeney, Glen Powell, and corny and predictable romantic comedies.

Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney in “Anyone But You” (Photo by Brook Rushton/Columbia Pictures)

When will certain filmmakers learn that pretty people in pretty locations do not automatically equal an enjoyable romantic comedy? William Shakespeare would cringe in embarrassment if he saw this lousy interpretation of “Much Ado About Nothing.” There isn’t anything creative, surprising or truly entertaining about “Anyone But You,” which is an example of a lazy rom com coasting by on some of the most overused clichés in romantic comedies.

Directed by Will Gluck (who co-wrote the trite and hollow “Anyone But You” screenplay with Ilana Wolpert), “Anyone But You” has a mostly talented cast stuck in roles that make most of their characters in the movie look like immature dolts. Adults who are in their 20s and 30s act more like teenagers who are inexperienced in dating. And the middle-aged parents in the story are nothing but shallow rom-com stereotypes of meddling relatives who interfere in their adult children’s love lives.

“Anyone But You” begins with the “meet cute” scene between the would-be couple at the center of the story. Beatrice “Bea” Messina (played by Sydney Sweeney), who’s in her mid-20s, says she’s a student in law school. Ben (played by Glen Powell), who’s in his mid-30s, has a background in finance and works as an online trader. Bea and Ben both live an unnamed U.S. city, where they meet at a local coffee shop.

Bea is in a hurry to be somewhere else when she goes into the coffee shop to use the restroom. She starts a conversation with an unfriendly barista (played by Mia Artemis), who abruptly tells her that the restroom is only for customers. Bea says she’ll buy something, but to her dismay, she sees that there’s a long line of customers.

Ben happens to be near the front of the line and notices Bea’s predicament because he overheard the conversation. All of sudden, Ben pretends that Bea is his wife, and he places her order for her. There’s an immediate attraction and rapport between Bea and Ben, as they play along at pretending to be spouses.

Bea excuses herself to use the restroom (which is a small room with one toilet) and calls her sister Halle (played by Hadley Robinson) to tell her about this attractive stranger she just met. Halle is also Bea’s best friend. As mentioned later in the movie, Bea met Ben when she was taking a break from her relationship with her fiancé Jonathan, whom she has known for years. Bea wanted this separation from Jonathan because she’s having doubts about getting married to anyone. Jonathan (played by Darren Barnet) doesn’t show up until the movie is half over.

Bea tells Halle that she could change her mind about dating someone new because she’s interested in getting to know Ben better. During this phone conversation in the restroom, Bea accidentally splashes a lot of sink water all over the front her jeans. This leads to a not-very-funny scene of Bea taking off her jeans and awkwardly using the hand dryer to get rid of the water stain, which could be misinterpreted as a urine stain.

Ben is patiently waiting for Bea outside, not knowing that flustered Bea is frantically trying to dry her jeans so she won’t give Ben the wrong impression about her hygiene. When she steps out of the bathroom, she doesn’t notice that a strand of toilet paper is stuck to the bottom of one of her shoes. Ben discreetly steps on the paper so it gets unstuck. All of this is supposed to be hilarious, but it’s just so boring.

Bea and Ben leave the coffee shop, which leads to a conversation where their mutual attraction to each other grows. Ben spontaneously invites Bea over to his place, where he makes grilled cheese sandwiches for both of them. They flirt some more and tell each other a little bit more about their lives. Bea says that even though she’s a law student, she’s not sure if she wants to become a lawyer.

Ben opens up to Bea and tells her about his most treasured possession: a giant wrench figurine given to him by his mother, who died an untold number of years ago. Ben’s father is not seen or mentioned in the movie. Bea and Ben spend the rest of the night talking. They fall asleep together on his couch.

When Bea wakes up, she thinks Ben is still asleep. She leaves without saying goodbye or leaving a note. However, Ben has noticed that Bea made a quick exit, and his feelings are hurt because he misinterprets it as Bea not being as interested in him as he’s interested in her.

Ben’s longtime best friend Pete (played by GaTa) shows up almost immediately after Bea leaves. He congratulates Ben on possibly finding a new love interest. Ben feels rejected by Bea, but his bruised ego won’t let him admit it to Pete. Instead, Ben lies to Pete to make it sound like Ben was the one who rejected Bea. “The girl is a disaster. I couldn’t get rid of her fast enough,” Ben tells Pete.

It just so happens that Bea has overheard Ben insult her in this part of the conversation, because (on the advice of Halle), Bea decided to go back to Ben’s place to make plans to see him again. Bea thinks that they had a magical night together, but she gets angry when she overhears through the open door what Ben is saying about her. Ben and Pete don’t see Bea eavesdropping and don’t find out until later that she has heard this part of the conversation.

Ben and Bea see each other again by chance at a nightclub when Bea is there with Halle and Halle’s new girlfriend Claudia (played by Alexandra Shipp), who just happens to be Pete’s younger sister. And lo and behold, all five of them are at this nightclub at the same time. The conversation becomes tense and uncomfortable when Bea and Ben start to snipe at each other and make it clear that they don’t want to see each other again.

Two years later, Halle and Claudia have gotten engaged and have planned a destination wedding to take place in Sydney, Australia, where Claudia’s parents live. All of their family members in the movie accept Halle and Claudia’s same-sex relationship. Claudia’s tactless father Roger (played by Bryan Brown) is a native Australian who is some type of business mogul. Roger is Pete’s stepfather; there’s no mention of where Pete’s biological father is. The mother of Pete and Claudia is Carol (played by Michelle Hurd), who likes to practice New Age healing techniques.

As for the parents of Bea and Halle, they are overbearing and worried that Bea might never get married. The sisters’ father Leo (played by Dermot Mulroney) and mother Innie (played by Rachel Griffiths) had their hearts set on Bea marrying Jonthan, because they think Jonathan would be the perfect husband for Bea. You can almost do a countdown to when Leo and Innie invite Jonathan to go to the wedding in Australia to be a “surprise” date for Bea. This plot development is already revealed in the trailer for “Anyone But You.”

In a conversation between Bea and Halle, the two sisters discuss how when they were children, Bea talked a lot about looking forward to being married, while Halle was very wary of marriage. And now, the sisters’ opinions of marriage have switched, with Bea now being the one who doesn’t have a desire to get married. Bea tells Halle that she’s happy for her and Claudia and completely supports their plans for marriage.

“Anyone But You” predictably shows Bea and Ben on the same plane flight to Australia and not being happy about it. More shenanigans ensue when Ben finds out that the Australian model-type ex-girlfriend who dumped him is also a wedding guest. Her name is Margaret (played by Charlee Fraser), and she is a cousin of Claudia and Pete. Margaret’s current boyfriend is a less-than-smart surfer named Beau (played by Joe Davidson), who talks in hokey Australian slang clichés that sound like what American screenwriters think Australian surfers sound like.

The rest of “Anyone But You” is a series of tiresome scenarios of friends and family members interfering with and being judgmental of the love lives of Bea and Ben. Bea and Ben then decide to pretend to be a couple (it was Bea’s idea), to get these intrusive people to back off, as well as to make Jonathan and Margaret jealous. Bea has no interest in getting back together with Jonathan, so she wants to look “unavailable.” Ben has lingering feelings for Margaret and hopes that if Margaret sees Ben and Bea as a couple, then Margaret might want to get back together with Ben.

“Anyone But You” over-relies on slapstick comedy with adults in various states of nudity or being in wet, clingy clothing. It’s supposed to be sexy and funny, but it just looks so fake and trying too hard. And when there’s an unimaginative romantic comedy that has a wedding as a major part of the story, you just know there’s going to be some kind of mishap involving the wedding cake.

Even more irritating: “Anyone But You” has some stupid scenes of characters attempting to manipulate what Bea and Ben do, by intentionally fabricating conversations that they want Bea and Ben to overhear. The story of this would-be couple is very unbalanced in the movie. Viewers learn a lot about Bea’s family and almost nothing about Ben’s family. What you will hear a lot of in the movie is Natasha Bedingfield’s 2004 hit “Unwritten,” which is put to very cloying use when cast members sing the song off-key at several points, including an end-credits montage.

Sweeney and Powell put in a fairly good effort in trying to be convincing as two people who’ve fallen in love on their first date and then spend most of their time together denying their true feelings. However, their comedic timing is often mismatched. Almost nothing in this movie is believable (including co-star chemistry that looks forced), and most of the movie’s characters are annoying. “Anyone But You” is ultimately a failed attempt to be a lovable romantic comedy. It’s only effective in being a showcase for how attractive locations can look with the right cinematography.

Columbia Pictures released “Anyone But You” in U.S. cinemas on December 22, 2023.

Review: ‘The Boys in the Boat,’ starring Callum Turner, Joel Edgerton, Jack Mulhern, Hadley Robinson, James Wolk, Peter Guinness and Chris Diamantopoulos

December 15, 2023

by Carla Hay

Bruce Herbelin-Earle, Callum Turner and Jack Mulhern in “The Boys in the Boat” (Photo by Laurie Sparham/Amazon MGM Studios)

“The Boys in the Boat”

Directed by George Clooney

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1936, in the United States and in Germany, the dramatic film “The Boys in the Boat” (based on the non-fiction book of the same name) features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Against the odds, the University of Washington junior varsity rowing team becomes a winning team in the United States, and competes in the 1936 Olympics against the Nazi German team that is expected to win the gold medal. 

Culture Audience: “The Boys in the Boat” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker George Clooney and old-fashioned sports movies that are conventional to a fault.

Chris Diamantopoulos, James Wolk, Joel Edgerton and Dominic Tighe in “The Boys in the Boat” (Photo by Laurie Sparham/Amazon MGM Studios)

“The Boys in the Boat” is the cinematic equivalent of stale and lukewarm comfort food for people who like formulaic underdog sports movies with no surprises. The acting performances are competent, but the screenplay and direction have too many dull clichés. Even if you didn’t know the true story on which this movie is based, it’s very easy to know how the movie is going to end within the first 15 minutes of watching the film.

Directed by George Clooney and written by Mark L. Smith, “The Boys in the Boat” is based on Daniel James Brown’s 2013 non-fiction book of the same name. The movie waters down, oversimplifies, and omits many interesting facts from this true story. The end results are a plodding and monotonous catalogue-type film, where most of the characters are either stereotypes or utterly forgettable.

“The Boys in the Boat” movie takes place in 1936, when the United States was in the midst of the Great Depression. In the city of Seattle, a financially struggling, working-class student named Joe Rantz (played by Callum Turner) is on the verge of being removed from enrollment at the University of Washington because he hasn’t been able to pay his tuition. In the beginning of the movie, Joe is told by a university official that Joe has two weeks to pay the tuition that he owes, or else he can no longer be enrolled in the university.

As luck would have it in a movie like “The Boys in the Boat,” Joe finds out that he can make the money that he needs in a short period of time if he gets chosen for the university’s junior varsity rowing team: the Washington Huskies. Only eight students will be chosen from a group of about 100 students who have tried out for these coveted slots. The team’s head coach Al Ulbrickson (played by Joel Edgerton) is a typical no-nonsense sports leader who warns everyone that being on this rowing team is physical torture, and most of the people who want to be on the team don’t have what it takes to succeed in rowing.

It’s not spoiler information to say that Joe makes the team, because the movie’s trailer and other marketing materials already reveal who’s on the team. The other students who are chosen are Don Hume (played by Jack Mulhern), Shorty Hunt (played by Bruce Herbelin-Earle), Jim McMillin (played by Wil Coban), Chuck Day (played by Thomas Elms), Johnny White (played by Thomas Stephen Varey) and Gordy Adam (played by Joel Phillimore). Nathan Coy (played by Tom Claxton) is the team’s reserve member. Glenn Morry (played by Frankie Fox) is the team’s coxswain.

Joe’s love interest is Joyce Simdars (played by Hadley Robinson), who was his crush in the fourth grade, but she moved away with her family and hasn’t seen Joe in years. But lo and behold, there she is at the University of Washington as a student. And when Joyce and Joe see each other again, she immediately reminds a slightly embarrassed Joe about the love note that he gave to her when they were children. Joyce, who comes from an affluent family, says she mainly enrolled in the university to get away from her religious mother. The romance between Joe and Joyce goes exactly the way you think it’s going to go in this type of movie.

Joe’s family background is reduced to a soundbite, in a scene where he tells the team’s boat maker George Pocock (played by Peter Guinness) that he’s been on his own since he was 14 years old. The character of George is a sports movie stereotype of a wise elder who’s not the main coach but who gives mentor advice to troubled athletes. Joe’s mother died when Joe was about 4 years old. His father Harry Rantz left to find work when Joe was in high school, and he didn’t come back. Joe briefly mentions he has a stepmother who had two young sons in her care. “It worked out best for everybody,” Joe says of his fractured family.

Really? Because in real life, things were much more difficult for Joe than how it’s described in the movie. In real life, Joe had an older brother named Fred, who is completely erased from the story. And although it’s true that Joe’s father Harry left, what the movie doesn’t mention is that Harry took his wife and stepsons with him. According to “The Boys in the Boat” book, Joe’s stepmother disliked Joe and insisted to Harry that Joe had to be left behind to fend for himself.

This traumatic abandonment is barely explored in the movie, which failed to give a deeper understanding of Joe’s intense motivation to succeed on the rowing team, other than the need to get money for tuition. Instead, the movie turns this parental abandonment into a glib line that Joe says about things working out for the best. You can almost do a countdown to the scene when deadbeat dad Harry (played by Alec Newman) shows up again at a certain point in Joe’s life.

“The Boys in the Boat” makes the same mistake that mediocre and bad movies about sports teams tend to make: Instead of giving distinct and memorable personalities to several of the team members, only one or two team members get this type of showcase. But even in this area, “The Boys in the Boat” falls short with trite dialogue for the two team members who get the most screen time: Joe and Don. Joe is in the team’s seventh boat position to set the pace, while Don is in the eighth position as the stroke anchor.

Joe is a typical star of a team in a sports underdog movie: He’s talented but he had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get to where he is. Joe is a good guy who’s a little bit introverted. He’s very shy when it comes to dating, which is supposed to make him look endearing to the viewers of “The Boys in the Boat.”

In these types of generic sports movies, the protagonist can’t be completely confident or completely privileged, or else the protagonist won’t be “relatable.” But “The Boys in the Boat” filmmakers don’t want to make Joe have too many hardships, or else that won’t make him “relatable” either. Even when Joe experiences a “will he or won’t he stay on the team” moment, there’s no real gravitas, because this moment comes and goes so quickly in the movie.

Every star on the team has a rival on the same team, who could either become a close ally or a bitter enemy. In this case, Joe’s competition for being the team’s biggest standout is Don, who’s even more socially awkward than Joe when it comes to dating. At least Joe can initiate a conversation with a potential love interest. In a scene taking place at a school dance, Don is afraid to look at and talk to a woman who looks at him flirtatiously when she’s sitting about six feet away from him.

Don’s rowing teammates are at the same dance. They know that Don is a talented piano player. And so, when they see that Don is having a hard time connecting with any women at this dance, what do his teammates do? They get up on stage and tell a reluctant Don that he has to play piano for the crowd, with the ulterior motive being that this performance will impress any women who could be Don’s love interest.

Don starts off playing bashfully, but he quickly improves and wins over the people in the audience, who respond with loud cheering. It gives Don the confidence he needs when that woman who was looking at him earlier has an inevitable conversation with him at the dance. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

The coaches in the movie are also fairly predictable. Coach Ulbrickson is typically gruff and tough in training and during rowing matches, but he shows a compassionate side when necessary. His two assistant coaches—Coach Tom Bolles (played by James Wolk) and Coach Brown (played by Dominic Tighe)—are mostly inconsequential characters. Coach Bolles is the more upbeat counterpart to frequently scowling Coach Ulbrickson, while Coach Brown is written with an almost completely blank personality.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer sports journalist Royal Brougham (played by Chris Diamantopoulos) shows up occasionally to give the coaches information on how rival teams are doing. The movie becomes a checklist of stepping stones for the team, until the Huskies reach their ultimate challenge: competing in the 1936 Olympics against the frontrunner rowing team from Nazi-controlled Germany. There is no suspense, because there would be no “Boys in the Boat” movie if the villain team won.

Along the way, viewers of “The Boys in the Boat” are constantly pounded over the head with corny dialogue saying that because the University of Washington’s junior varsity team members come from working-class backgrounds, they “deserve” to win more than any affluent and privileged students from opposing teams. This heavy-handed messaging is especially hammered into the Pacific Coast Regatta scenes, where the Washington Huskies face off against the better-funded and more experienced Cal Bears from the University of California at Berkeley. It’s reverse snobbery that’s kind of obnoxious and hypocritical, considering that “The Boys in the Boat” director/producer Clooney comes from the same type of affluent and privileged family background that is frequently insulted in this hokey movie.

And therein lies what is ultimately the undoing of “The Boys in the Boat.” By trying too hard to look “relatable” by appealing to “working-class/common-person” sensibilities, everything is “dumbed down” and ends up looking too phony in the movie. “The Boys in the Boat” needed to give audience members more credit in being able to handle the grittier and more complex nuances of these real rowing team members, instead of forcing these athletes into looking like “too good to be true” heroes with cardboard personalities.

Amazon MGM Studios will release “The Boys in the Boat” in U.S. cinemas on December 25, 2023.

Review: ‘The Pale Blue Eye,’ starring Christian Bale, Harry Melling, Gillian Anderson, Lucy Boynton and Robert Duvall

December 22, 2022

by Carla Hay

Robert Duvall, Christian Bale and Harry Melling in “The Pale Blue Eye” (Photo by Scott Garfield/Netflix)

“The Pale Blue Eye”

Directed by Scott Cooper

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1830, in New York state’s Hudson Valley, the dramatic film “The Pale Blue Eye” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A widowed constable, who is grieving over the loss of wife and his teenage daughter, is hired to solve the grisly murder of a cadet at the United States Military Academy (also known as West Point Academy), where he teams up to solve the mystery with a cadet named Edgar Allan Poe. 

Culture Audience: “The Pale Blue Eye” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the book on which the movie is based; the stars of the movie; and well-acted and suspenseful thrillers.

Lucy Boynton, Fred Hechinger, Harry Melling, Toby Jones, Harry Lawtey (pictured in the back) and Gillian Anderson in “The Pale Blue Eye” (Photo by Scott Garfield/Netflix)

“The Pale Blue Eye” is an engaging and stylish murder mystery with a talented cast that can keep people interested when the movie’s pacing sometimes drags. A “reveal” scene looks clumsy, but the movie is an overall worthy version of Louis Bayard’s 2003 novel of the same name that is the basis of the movie. Yes, it’s another Christian Bale movie where he plays a brooding loner, but the acting is done well enough that it doesn’t feel like a rehash of his other movie roles.

Written and directed by Scott Cooper, “The Pale Blue Eye” is Bale’s third movie collaboration with Cooper. Bale and Cooper previously worked together on 2013’s “Out of the Furnace” and 2017’s “Hostiles.” In “The Pale Blue Eye” (which takes place in 1830 in New York’s Hudson Valley), Bale is protagonist Augustus Landor, a retired constable/detective who is recruited to solve an unusual murder case and finds himself investigating a possible serial killer.

Augustus, who lives alone in a remote cottage, is a widower whose wife died in 1827. He is also grieving over the more recent loss of his teenage daughter Mathilda, also known as Mattie (played by Hadley Robinson), who is shown in brief flashbacks. Augustus tells people that he hasn’t seen Mattie since she ran away with a boyfriend whom August briefly met. To cope with his grief, August has become a habitual drinker of alcohol. It’s not very clear if he’s a full-blown alcoholic, but his drinking habits have negatively affected his career and his reputation.

It’s under these circumstances that Augustus is visited in the movie’s opening scene by Captain Ethan Hitchcock (played by Simon McBurney), a no-nonsense and stern official from the United States Military Academy, also known as West Point Academy, because of its location in West Point, New York. Captain Hitchcock doesn’t waste any time in saying why he is visiting Augustus: A second-year cadet at the academy has been murdered, his body was found on the school’s campus, and the academy wants Augustus to solve the crime before it becomes a major scandal.

The murder victim, whose name was Leroy Fry (played by Steven Maier), was found hanging from a tree, with his feet touching the ground, indicating that it wasn’t a suicide. His heart was removed with the precision of someone with surgical knowledge to make a straight and orderly incision. This gruesome mutilation is something that the academy’s officials don’t want to be widely known when people find out about the murder. They also want to work with Augustus to keep the investigation as private as possible, instead of going to the local police department. Despite his drinking problem, August is considered one of the best detectives in the area.

At first, August seems hesitant to take the case, but he soon agrees to investigate the crime. Captain Hitchcock gives Augustus a ride to the academy, where August meets Superintendent Thayer (played by Timothy Spall), who isn’t as emotionally aloof as Captain Hitchcock, but he conducts himself with an air of impatient authority. Superintendent Thayer tells Augustus soon after meeting him: “I’m asking you to save the honor of the United States Military Academy.”

Augustus immediately begins by interviewing possible witnesses, as well as the academy’s doctor performing the autopsy. Dr. Daniel Marquis (played by Toby Jones) is wealthy and very good at his job, but he has the type of arrogance where he lets people know that he thinks he’s the smartst person in the room. In the medical exam room, Dr. Marquis tells Augustus that the murderer isn’t necessarily someone who’s a doctor but someone who needed good light and knew where to cut, in order to remove the heart without cutting or damaging the lungs.

While examining the body, Augustus finds a very important clue: The murder victim had a torn piece of paper clutched inside one of his hands. The paper is a hand-written note with most of the words missing. Augustus eventually gets some help in deciphering what the note says.

During the early part of this investigation, meets an eccentric cadet named Edgar Allan Poe (played by Harry Melling), who cryptically tells Augustus that the murderer is probably a poet. Another cadet tells Augustus that he saw a suspicious-looking man lurking near the crime scene. But the only description that this witness can give is that the man looked like he was wearing an officer’s jacket with the bars removed from the jacket arm.

Augustus finds out that Leroy and his roommate Cadet Loughborough (played by Charlie Tahan) came to dislike each other. Cadet Loughborough says in his interview with Augustus: “I wouldn’t call it a ‘falling out.’ It’s a matter of diverging paths. He fell in with a bad bunch.” However, Cadet Loughborough says he doesn’t know any details about any of Leroy’s new friends.

Captain Hitchcock has been tasked with putting pressure on Augustus to solve the crime as soon as possible and overseeing Augustus’ investigation. And so, Captain Hitchcock does some hovering during the investigation and sometimes shows up unexpectedly in places, in order to catch Augustus and other people off guard. Augustus is more of a freewheeling individual who doesn’t see life in such a rigid way. And you can easily predict what that means: Captain Hitchcock and August are going to clash with each other.

Captain Hitchcock has a low tolerance for people who don’t take things as seriously has he does. He sets three ground rules for Augustus that he says can’t be broken: (1) Report all findings to Captain Hitchcock; (2) Don’t tell anyone outside the academy about the investigation; and (3) No drinking alcohol during the course of the investigation.

What does Augustus do in reaction to these rules? He goes to a local pub to get drunk. As he says in a toast to the bartender, “Here’s to rules.” The pub is also where Augustus meets a bar maid named Pasty (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg), a friendly and soft-spoken employee who observes a great deal of what goes on in the pub. Quicker than you can say “lonely widower,” Augustus and Charlotte end up in bed together for a casual fling.

The pub is also where many of the cadets hang out in their free time. It’s here that Augustus sees Edgar, a highly intelligent oddball who is a social misfit at the academy. Augustus and Edgar strike up a conversation, where Augustus asks Edgar what he meant by the murderer being a poet.

Edgar explains that the heart is more than a body organ: It’s a symbol. Edgar says, “To remove a man’s heart is to traffic in symbol.” “The Pale Blue Eye” has several references to hearts removed from bodies. Of course, it’s a nod to the real Edgar Allan Poe, who became a famous horror/mystery novelist, with one of his most well-known works being the short story “The Tell-Tale Heart,” about a killer haunted by the sound of a murder victim’s beating heart.

“The Pale Blue Eye” is a fictional story, but it cleverly implies that if the real Edgar Allan Poe actually existed in this story, “The Tell-Tale Heart” would have been influenced by his experience working on this murder case. Later in the movie, Edgar recites a line from the real “Tell-Tale Heart,” which includes a description about the murderer being annoyed by his victim having an eye cataract: a “pale blue eye.”

Augustus is impressed enough by Edgar to secretly hire Edgar to assist Augustus in the investigation. Augustus tells Edgar that it’s a non-paying job, but Edgar doesn’t seem to mind, because he’s eager to be involved in helping solve a mystery. One of the first things that Augustus asks Edgar to do is help decipher the torn note that was found in Leroy’s hand. Augustus says he doesn’t like to read many books and isn’t as well-read as Edgar. But at the same time, Augustus doesn’t want Edgar to completely upstage him in this investigation.

It should come as no surprise that Leroy isn’t the only one who ends up dead in this story. Another cadet is killed in a similar manner. And it sends the academy officials into a panic that the killer is specifically targeting cadets at the academy. If so, why? It leads to even more pressure on Augustus to find the murderer.

Along the way, other people are introduced who might or might not have clues that could help solve this mystery. There is suspicion that the murderer is cutting out hearts as part of an occult ritual. And so, Augustus and Edgar meet with Professor Jean Pepe (played by Robert Duvall), an expert in symbols, rituals and the occult. Duvall’s screen time in the movie is less than 15 minutes, but his wise and jaded Jean Pepe character plays a pivotal role in the movie.

During the investigation, Augustus and Edgar also meet Dr. Marquis’ wife Julia Marquis (played by Gillian Anderson), who is very sensitive and high-strung. Dr. and Mrs. Marquis have two children: Artemus Marquis (played by Harry Lawtey), who is a popular cadet at the academy, and Lea Marquis (played by Lucy Boynton), who is a sought-after bachelorette with a talent for playing the piano. Artemus and Lea both sometimes act a little spoiled and entitled, but they look out for each other and have a strong family bond.

Edgar becomes smitten with Lea, and they start casually dating. Lea wants Edgar to be her platonic friend, but he is hoping that their relationship will develop into a romance. On one of their dates, Edgar is alarmed when Lea goes into a seizure but just as quickly recovers. Meanwhile, a cadet named Randolph “Randy” Ballinger (played by Fred Hechinger) also has a romantic interest in Lea, and he gets jealous of Edgar. Of course this would-be love triangle leads to problems.

“The Pale Blue Eye” has many of its best moments in showing the rapport between Augustus and Edgar, who are from different generations and have different personalities, but both characters have moments of emotional vulnerability. Their relationship is sometimes compatible and sometimes uneasy while working together in this very stressful murder investigation. Bale and Melling adeptly handle their respective roles, with Melling tending to be a little more melodramatic in portraying socially awkward Edgar. Augustus and Edgar (who became an orphan in his childhood) don’t have much in common, but they both sense that they are alone in the world and have an unspoken camaraderie of feeling like maverick outsiders.

“The Pale Blue Eye” takes place in an unnamed winter month with snow outside, so the cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi is a gorgeous palette of icy blue in exterior scenes and gold/brown for interior scenes. The movie’s production design and costume design are also well-done. And the musical score by Howard Shore is very effective in how it builds the story’s tension.

Where “The Pale Blue Eye” falters is in how the movie’s tone and pacing can occasionally get a little dull. There’s also a crucial scene involving a blazing fire that doesn’t look completely genuine. Without giving away too many details, it’s enough to say that in real life, people would be running away from this fire a lot quicker than what’s shown in the movie. However, “The Pale Blue Eye” does not disappoint when it comes to the acting performances. Viewers who might be the most disappointed in the movie will be those expecting “The Pale Blue Eye” to be more of an action film.

For people who don’t know how the story is going to end, “The Pale Blue Eye” is a somber and thoughtful mystery that will keep viewers guessing about what will happen next. Just when it looks like the movie can end one way, there are more revelations. Because of a surprise twist which is handled a lot better than an earlier plot twist, “The Pale Blue” does not go down a predictable path and should satisfy fans of murder mysteries that don’t completely follow the usual formulas.

Netflix will release “The Pale Blue Eye” in select U.S. cinemas on December 23, 2022. The movie will premiere on Netflix on January 6, 2023.

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