Friday Film Review | "The Pale Blue Eye"
An eerie reference from a poem by Edgar Allan Poe translates to the big screen gothic murder mystery, “The Pale Blue Eye.”
“The Pale Blue Eye” stars Academy Award winner Christian Bale as Augustus Landor, a retired New York detective who the leadership of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point enlists to investigate the grisly, mysterious death of one of their cadets.
The death appears to be a suicide, but when the heart of the deceased is subsequently removed from the body stored at the morgue, officials worry something more sinister is at play.
The detective is soon aided by an eccentric poet, another cadet named Edgar Allan Poe, played by Harry Melling, best known as Dudley Dursley from the “Harry Potter” franchise. Poe offers Landor his clever ability to make peculiar observations, as well as his capacity to snoop behind the well-regulated walls of the academy.
While the story is grounded in some historical fact, the plot is completely fictional, based upon a novel by Louis Bayard. Edgar Allan Poe did attend West Point briefly after enlisting following the death of his mother, but quickly dropped out to pursue his writing.
Director Scott Cooper, who previously collaborated with Christian Bale on “Out of the Furnace” and “Hostiles,” follows the novel closely, using the historic context of Poe’s service and his early penchant for poetry rooted in morbid obsessions as vehicles for the mystery.
Landor, Poe, and the emerging suspects all have an attachment to deceased loved ones and the detectives must sort out whether these lost spirits randomly haunt the film’s protagonists or are somehow connected to the cadet death.
The acting, outdoor set locations, and cinematography are the standout features of the film. The beautifully framed shots of blue/grey winter depicting upstate New York during a harsh winter immerse the audience in the eerie isolation of the mystery. While Harry Melling’s stature may convey more of an Ichabod Crane persona in the film, his delivery of Poe’s morose expressiveness, amplified by late conversations in a local pub, is spot on.
So, on my Black Diamond ski trail rating system, “The Pale Blue Eye” earns an intermediate BLUE ski trail rating. Led by Harry Melling’s embodiment of an enigmatic Poe, the entire cast is superb, and the film’s slow pace allows for each actor to peel back the layers of each role. The cinematography captures the desolate landscape, producing a stark canvas for the disturbingly dark story.
However, the film doesn’t earn my highest BLACK DIAMOND rating because the film’s editing and Cooper’s direction yield a lackluster narrative which unfolds the mystery without tension nor the gothic creepiness the movie’s trailers falsely advertise. “The Pale Blue Eye” is worth investigation on your own but it is not the gothic thriller hyped by its previews, instead requiring the patience of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca,” a slow burn psychological mystery.
“The Pale Blue Eye” is streaming on Netflix following a limited theatrical release, and rated R for some violent content, bloody images and involuntary organ donations.