I’m surprised The Pale Blue Eye hasn’t had more discussion around it up to this point. The film had a limited theatrical run at the end of December and recently dropped for all to enjoy on Netflix. It stars one of the best working actors today (Christian Bale), an emerging character actor (Harry Melling), and includes a narrative involving Edgar Allen Poe. Its also Bale’s third collaboration with writer/director Scott Cooper following Out of the Furnace and Hostiles, two well reviewed though not incredibly popular films. Plus, add in a murder mystery at West Point storyline and you got yourselves a movie. However, after watching it’s easy to understand.
Augustus Landor (Bale) is a retired 19th century New York constable who is called to the United States Military Academy to investigate the mysterious death of one of their cadets. The corpse was found hanging from a tree but later in the morgue its heart was mysteriously removed. Landor sets out to investigate the murder and quickly links up with an oddball cadet by the name of Poe (Melling) who expresses an interest in assisting him on the case. What comes next is a murder investigation unlike many we see today in a world filled with true crime stories. The results will surprise many though it lingers on just a bit too long.
Without going into spoilers, the ending is perhaps the worst part of this film. What was a clean and relatively engaging period mystery piece quickly unravels in to one too many twists. Outside of that, this is a solid mystery film that requires viewers to stay engaged. It’s certainly slow at times and its interesting to see old-school detective ways of working play out but what really carries the film is one performance in particular and it not the one you would think.
Bale, who has a spot cemented on my Mr. Rushmore of favorite actors, is completely outdone here by Harry Melling. Who would have thought that of all the kids to come out of the Harry Potter universe it would be a thinned out Dudley Dursley who has gone on to have one of the best careers. Since he’s branched away from the franchise that made him famous he’s delivered memorable performances in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, The Queen’s Gambit, The Devil All the Time, and The Tragedy of Macbeth though this performance should help launch him to bigger and better things. He’s a tremendous character actor that plays cerebral and slippery characters rather well and I can’t wait to see more of him moving forward. The cast also includes some notable faces like Gillian Anderson (The Fall), Toby Jones (Captain America: The First Avenger), Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner), Harry Lawtey (Industry), Lucy Boynton (Bohemian Rhapsody), and the legendary Robert Duvall. Each gets their moment to shine but nobody stands out quite like Melling.
Aesthetically, this is a good looking movie. The dark tones and uses of blues really paint the bleakness of the winter setting of the Hudson Valley. The pacing is certainly a slow burn that builds up to an unforeseen finale (or so we think) but rarely does this feel like a sluggish and posh period piece. Yes, I just used ‘posh’ correctly and intentionally.
Overall, the film isn’t anything particularly special outside of its performances but the overwriting proves fatal for this one. Still a solid watch if you’re looking for a good mystery or want to see one of Christian Bale’s more grounded performances in recent memory.
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