Now, this is a detective Christian Bale period piece.
After labeling “Amsterdam” as the worst film of 2022, here’s Christian Bale in a much better murder mystery known as “The Pale Blue Eye.” Louis Bayard’s novel takes place at West Point in 1830 where Edgar Allen Poe was a cadet, and aided the detective Augustus Landor in the case of a young cadet, whose heart was literally ripped out. This sounds sinister, after all, this cadet was also a poet with dark tales like “The Tell Tale Heart” or “The Raven.” In real life, he failed as a cadet, pled “not guilty” to induce dismissal. He preferred writing and reading over that, but this movie isn’t a biopic on him. But it is interesting to see him a character here.
Bale is Landor, while Harry Melling is Poe, and their acting, under the direction of Scott Cooper, is sublime in the ways they bring their characters to life with patience and complexity. They both not here to look like big names in a small film; they’re here to help represent the ambiance and horrors of what this story brings.
This movie has its flaws in terms of its tone and screenplay, which seems convoluted at times, but when it comes to 19th century styles-the clothes, the dialogue, and the actors-“The Pale Blue Eye” has its values. It tests our senses and takes its time in what leads the characters in certain directions. Directions I can’t spoil for you, but I promise you they’re unpredictable, complex, and emotional.
The supporting actors also includes Robert Duvall as the occult expert and hermit Jean-Pepe, Charlotte Gainsbourg as Landor’s lover Patsy, Simon McBurney as the no-nonscense Captain Hitchcock, Toby Jones as the physicist Dr. Daniel Marquis, Gillan Anderson as his wife, and Lucy Boynton as their daughter Lea. These actors are able to adapt to their characters, and they have their moments that keep you interested. Not just for their costumes and make-up, but also for how they don’t resort to those obvious cliches in period pieces.
For example: I assumed Lea was suffering from consumption, because she was coughing and it’s winter outside, but it’s not consumption. It’s something else.
Being the third movie Cooper has guided Bale in (after “Out of the Furnace” and “Hostiles”), there’s a certain kind of chemistry between them that makes us want to watch the film. Or it could be that Duvall inspired the filmmaker to get into writing and directing. Or it could be a made-for-Netflix murder mystery with Edgar Allen Poe as a character. It’s something that streamers can watch. And unlike “Amsterdam,” this is not a comedy that’s caters to movie-goers’ needs or whatever Hollywood discriminates against them. It’s a horror, mystery, and thriller that knows the exact definitions of those genres.
“The Pale Blue Eye” lags when it becomes convoluted in various parts, but it all pays off and uses the right words to describe why something has to happen in the story, and what distinguishes between a hero and a villain. Sometimes, they can be honest or they can be wolves in sheep’s clothing. Either way, the movie keeps us watching.
Would I give this movie the amount of stars equally the number 4?
Quoth the critic: “Nevermore.”
But three stars should suffice.
Now Playing in Select Theaters
Streaming on Netflix This Friday
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