January 6th, 2023
MOVIE: THE PALE BLUE EYE
STARRING: CHRISTIAN BALE, HARRY MELLING, SIMON MCBURNEY, TIMOTHY SPALL, TOBY JONES
DIRECTED BY: SCOTT COOPER
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
Author Edgar Allen Poe is the closest thing the horror genre has as a grandfather. His writing has always been of the grim, dark senses, and it’s adapted nicely over the years in cinema. The Pale Blue Eye combines the real life of Poe into a dark and brooding mystery, where the author becomes a part of the investigation. It’s a fascinating approach– something that was attempted in 2012’s The Raven with John Cusack playing a far too eccentric version of Poe– with director Scott Cooper and Christian Bale teaming back up for a wintery, gothic mystery.
There is a string of murders in a small military academy town and it prompts great fear among the locals. One of the cadets has been discovered hanging from a tree and Augustus Landor (Bale)– an investigator with a tortured past- is given the task of finding the killer. As it turns out, one of the other cadets is Mr. Edgar Allen Poe (Harry Melling in an impressive performance) and he happens to know many of the details of the man who has been killed. Down the rabbit hole Landor goes, as he must work around the higher-ups of the Academy, Superintendent Thayer (Timothy Spall), Captain Hitchcock (Simon McBurney), and the school’s doctor Daniel Marquis (Toby Jones). As others are found dead in town, a veil is removed about people in the town, and some revelations of dark rituals are made.
As for the work of director Scott Cooper, he often seems to stop short of greatness. He’s an incredibly skilled director. Venturing through various genres in films such as Black Mass, Hostiles, and his recent film Antlers. His style has a twinge of the old-school Peckinpah, a grime-soaked authenticity that raises even the stalest of material, but he’s so close to achieving the highest marks. Unfortunately, that problem is not fixed in The Pale Blue Eye, which nearly crosses the finish line, but has a bit of a double ending. Outside of this quibble, everyone involved is top-notch, including Bale who does great work every time with Cooper. His performance is both tortured and mysterious, making a complex character out of thin description.
The screenplay is also written by Cooper (adapted from the book by Louis Bayard) and he does capture the unique touches of a good murder mystery. Reeling the audience in is hard enough, especially with a dark gothic tale, but we follow along in the mystery. We sense to fear the closer we get to results. The biggest win for The Pale Blue Eye comes from the aesthetics and cinematography. The production design is stellar, with the costumes expressing character detail, candlelit rooms, and depressing pubs. There is a constant chill in the air and all of that comes from the world we are dragged into.
The Pale Blue Eye ultimately feels exactly like an Edgar Allen Poe work. Ravens are present. Death beneath wood floorboards. Tortured souls and dark family secrets. It comes together like a dive into a book that comes alive. Now we just need Scott Cooper to make something as great as Poe. Hopefully, we won’t be saying…Nevermore.
THE PALE BLUE EYE IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS AND IS AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX.
Written by: Leo Brady