Scott Cooper’s (Antlers) new film The Pale Bue Eye has just made its debut on Netflix, and boy, have I been waiting to see it!
The film centers on Christian Bale’s Augustus Landor, a retired detective tasked with investigating a rash of murders. Set at “West Point, 1830, when Poe did attend in real life, a cadet is found dead in the early hours of a winter morning. But after the body arrives at the morgue, tragedy becomes savagery when it’s discovered that the young man’s heart has been skillfully cut out. Fearing irreparable damage to the fledgling military academy, its leaders turn to a local detective, Augustus Landor (Christian Bale), to solve the murder. Stymied by the cadets’ code of silence, Landor enlists the help of one of their own to pursue the case, an eccentric cadet with a disdain for the rigors of the military and a penchant for poetry—a young man named Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling).
The film is an adaptation of Louis Bayard’s 2006 novel, The Pale Blue Eye. I can not say what the differences might be between the story and the film because, in all honesty, I have not read it. But I’m putting it on my “to do” list.
Let me start by saying Christian Bale is an incredible actor. What he did to himself to portray his character in The Machinist shows his complete dedication to his craft. Let’s not forget the narcissistic psychopath he played so well in American Psycho. I’ve come to expect a lot from Mr. Bale; unfortunately, I feel his performance in The Pale Blue Eye isn’t up to par with his usual performances. His character experiences so much, but he shows little feeling in the movie, save for when the subject of his daughter is brought up. I felt a bit cold and stiff.
When it comes to Landor’s sidekick of sorts in the movie, a young Edgar Allan Poe, Harry Melling (Harry Potter franchise), was perfect. It could not have been a better casting. Melling is exactly who I would picture Poe would be at that age. And the way Melling conveys such passion and emotion as he recites his poetry is fantastic. He nailed it!
Gillian Anderson (“The X-Files”), Lucy Boynton (Bohemian Rhapsody), Robert Duvall (The Judge), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Antichrist), Toby Jones (First Cow), Harry Lawtey (Industry), Simon McBurney (Carnival Row), Charlie Tahan (Ozark) also star in the gothic thriller.
The murders and the hunt for the killer(s), and the mysteries that unfold are enough to keep you interested in the movie, and the supernatural aspect helps with that too. While The Pale Blue Eyes plays out against a stunning, snow-covered backdrop, there is a grittiness, a dark aspect to it that pairs well.
The whole film is dedicated mainly to two emotions, love and desperation. There are constant themes of desperation throughout the movie over one thing or another, from the investigation to saving a young woman, hiding secrets, to coping with the cruelty of the past.
The ending…I’m going to try my best not to spoil it, but unsatisfying and pointless are descriptions that come to mind. I was left saying, “Really?” in the movie’s final moments. Really? All of this built up to that? Ugh! Any emotions the movie may have stirred in me instantly dissipated, and I was left dissatisfied. It is truly a shame because the rest of the film was good, but the ending just ruined it for me. I understand the ending was meant to be a release for the main character, but it just didn’t feel right, but what do I know? I’m just a movie fan.
The Pale Blue Eye is a love letter to Poe presented as a tale. If you are a fan of Poe, then you might pick up on a few homages to his works, for instance, Detective Landor is character from Poe’s Landor’s Cottage and Lanore is mentioned in several conversations. As for the film’s name, it comes from a line in The Tell-Tale Heart.
“…The disease had sharpened my senses — not destroyed — not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily — how calmly I can tell you the whole story.
It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture — a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees — very gradually — I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.
Watch The Pale Blue Eye now, streaming on Netflix.