It’s all about Edgar Allan Poe in Scott Cooper’s The Pale Blue Eye. Played by Harry Melling, Poe assists Constable Landor (Christian Bale) in a murder investigation. Read our review.
We all know (and love) Edgar Allan Poe as the grandfather of horror fiction, the master of macabre. He had a great knack for writing about nightmarish stuff with a sense of elegance and grace, without ever watering down his grisly topics.
But we know very little of the real Poe, we mostly know him through his work. Writer-director Scott Cooper wants to fix that and gives us a fictionalised version of Poe by adapting The Pale Blue Eye, a novel by Louis Bayard, to screen big and small. The Pale Blue Eye will have a theatrical release before heading to Netflix in a few short weeks.
Constable Augustus Landor lives a life of solitude, until he is called to investigate a string of murders in West Point Military Academy in Virginia. A cadet has been found dead in an apparent suicide, but something is off and it’s not long until more cadets die.
Landor is aided by a young Edgar Allan Poe, a romantic and a poet with a sense for darkness. Poe and Landor investigate the murders which lead them to very unexpected conclusions, but to say more would be to spoil the delicious secrets of The Pale Blue Eye.
Cooper has been fascinated by America and its history for a long time and it has always been the main focus of his filmography. He examined revenge and the treatment of Native Americans in Hostiles and looked at more contemporary addiction in last year’s Antlers. His first collaboration with Christian Bale was in 2012’s Out of the Furnace and The Pale Blue Eye, their third collaboration, is a fascinating continuation of Cooper’s fascination with America’s bloody past.
Visually, The Pale Blue Eye is among the finest of the year. Masanobu Takayanagi’s framing creates these dreamy, almost surreal images on the screen and Howard Shore’s haunting score amplifies those beautifully. The winter-y landscapes and thick fog deserve to be seen on the big screen to get the full effect.
At just over two hours, The Pale Blue Eye is slow. It aims for slowburn and mostly succeeds in it, but towards the end, it becomes rushed. The murders aren’t quite as brutal as they could be; it feels like Cooper, who has previously excelled in creating brutally violent scenes like in Hostiles, is somehow holding back here.
The ending of the film is puzzling. It comes completely out of left field and maybe that’s not a bad thing, but Cooper rushes through his big finale, leaving far too many unanswered questions. If The Pale Blue Eye was maybe ten minutes longer, it would all be just a little more satisfying.
Christian Bale, as always, is compelling as the film’s lead. Even if Landor’s character arc is a little obvious and predictable, Bale brings so much weight and history to the character, it makes up for any flaws in the writing. The role is surprisingly similar to Bale’s turn in Thor: Love and Thunder earlier this year.
Opposite Bale is Harry Melling as Poe. It’s a remarkable performance and the complete tonal opposite to Bale’s performance which ignites the screen when the two actors share it. Cooper has always excelled at getting great performances out of his actors and The Pale Blue Eye is no different.
The Pale Blue Eye is a film that probably rewards multiple watches; its language is difficult to get used to and a second watch might give you more clues to that ending. It’s dripping with a dark mood and atmosphere which makes it a wickedly fun watch, but this isn’t quite Cooper’s best work.
The Pale Blue Eye is in cinemas 23 December before streaming on Netflix 6 January.