The Pale Blue Eye
the pale blue eye | scott cooper | louis bayard | christian bale | harry melling | simon mcburney | crime | mystery | thriller | charlotte gainsborugh | united states | edgar allan poe | timothy spall | toby jones | gillian anderson | based on | novel | charlie tahan
Film: The Pale Blue Eye
Director: Scott Cooper
Writers: Scott Cooper and Louis Bayard
Starring: Christian Bale, Harry Melling and Simon McBurney
This is a movie that caught my attention early into the year. This came out on January 6th to Netflix if memory serves. I put it on my list of things to check out when I found out that this is horror. Having Christian Bale was a plus as well. What I didn’t realize until settling in was that this is directed by Scott Cooper, who also co-wrote this. He worked with Bale on Out of the Furnace which I liked.
Synopsis: a world-weary detective is hired to investigate the murder of a West Point cadet. Stymied by the cadets’ code of silence, he enlists one of their own to help unravel the case – a young man the world would come to know as Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling).
We start this with a quote from Poe about the boundaries of life and death. We then see someone hanging from a tree. It is foggy outside. It then shifts over to Augustus Landor (Bale). He is washing his hands in a creek. It is also quite snowy. What I will say here is that he is the world-weary detective. Life has given him a raw deal. His wife passed away and his daughter is missing. He lives in a cabin in the middle of the woods.
His life is changed with Captain Hitchcock (Simon McBurney) visiting him. They want this detective to solve what happened to the cadet we saw hanging. This was Cadet Fry (Steven Maier). A contract is agreed upon between Superintendent Thayer (Timothy Spall). The pressure is on due to politicians in Washington D.C. wanting to shut down West Point. This incident could give them the ammunition they need.
Referring to the synopsis, things aren’t easy for Landor. That is when he enlists the aid of Cadet Poe. He is an odd boy who is bullied. He is fond of poetry and if memory serves, he is already published. Landor takes a liking to him as Poe is a brilliant code breaker already. He also can relay information the other cadets won’t.
There are other players to deal with in this murder mystery. Dr. Daniel Marquis (Toby Jones) works at the school. His son also attends, Cadet Artemus Marquis (Harry Lawtey). Their mother is Julia (Gillian Anderson). There is also a daughter, Lea (Lucy Boynton). She is sickly, but brilliant at the piano. Poe takes a liking to her. Cadet Fry was friends with Randolph Ballinger (Fred Hechinger) and Cadet Stoddard (Joey Brooks). They all attended this school together. Landor also seeks the company of Patsy (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who works at the local tavern. There is also a professor who helps him in Jean Pepe (Robert Duvall).
Things heat up when Cadet Ballinger is also killed. Both his and Cadet Fry’s hearts were stolen and a room is found where a ritual might have taken place. Landor and Poe have secrets they hide from each other, plus this school has ones of their own that complicate this story as well. Not everyone is as they seem.
That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start is that we have a solid murder mystery here. Having this set in the past is good. Also being at this isolated military academy as well. It is also in the early 1800s, that limits things in a way that helps the story. It also had my mind working. I originally wondered if this was a ‘Jack the Ripper’ story, but I double checked the years and this would be too early. From there, I focused on the fact that we have Poe as a character.
I think that is where I’ll go as that is one of the best parts here. It feels to me that the writing duo of Cooper and Bayard have a good grasp on Poe lore as well as his works. I was picking up on references that sucked me in. The title The Pale Blue Eye made me think of ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’. I believe that is the story where the narrator goes crazy due to this odd eye of the person he works for. Other references I notice is that Lea seems to be the basis for Poe’s ‘Lenore’. There are siblings here where the sister is ill could be referred to ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’. There is also a raven seen throughout with the obvious one there. I appreciated the care and the knowledge that was put into this.
Then to go from there, I read trivia about how many believe Poe wrote the first detective story with ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’. It is fitting that Poe as the character is helping Landor solve this case. What I want to include here is the pacing as well. Overall, I think that the mystery is good. It had me guessing at different things and trying to piece it together. I do have to say that I think this drags on in the third act as we move toward the resolution. I lost interest since I feel this at times tries to fit in too much. Where it ended up was good. I appreciated that. I just think we could get there a bit quicker without needing as much filler.
Now I did want to discuss if this as a horror movie. At the heart of it, we are getting a crime mystery/thriller. The horror comes from how brutal the crimes are. What is interesting though is that the first one is a hanging. The body is then mutilated. The crimes get more vicious from there. We also get an angle there whomever is doing this could be a Satanist. A ritual might be the reason for the murders. I still think this is light in this department, but we are getting them for sure.
That should be enough for the story so let me go to the acting. We have an amazing cast here. Bale is good as our lead. He is a tortured man who is trying to get by. He is tormented by things from his past so he turns to drinking. This investigation gives him purpose, at least until it is done. I liked Melling as Poe. He has a look about him that matches the images I see as well as just the demeanor of the stories/poems he wrote. I like that we had the likes of McBurney, Spall, Jones, Gainsborough, Boynton, Duvall and Anderson. There is also the younger cast who are cadets like Lawtey, Hechinger, Brooks, Maier and even Charlie Tahan. It is strong across the board in my opinion.
Then all there is left to into would be filmmaking. I did like the cinematography. It captures the era that we are set which is good. The costumes and the setting also helps there. There is a bleakness having this set during the winter. It almost drains all the color out. I appreciated that. We don’t get a lot in the way of effects. We also don’t need it either. What we got though looked practical, which I appreciated. Other than that, the soundtrack fit what was needed.
In conclusion, this is a solid murder mystery. It is light on the horror elements so if you are a fan there this might not be necessarily right for you. The story is interesting. There were twists and turns that kept me interested in most of it. I do think that it runs too long where it could be trimmed a bit. The cast is strong. The setting, cinematography and how this was made was also good. If you are fan of Poe, I think you can pull a lot from this. I’d also recommend it if you are into mysteries like this as well.
My Rating: 8 out of 10