The Pale Blue Eye Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
A gothic period murder mystery, seeing a veteran detective being paired with a young Edgar Allan Poe to solve a grizzly murder in 1830 New York.
Genre: Crime / Horror / Mystery / Thriller
Director: Scott Cooper
Cast: Christian Bale, Harry Melling, Toby Jones, Simon McBurney, Harry Lawtey, Lucy Boynton, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Fred Hechinger & Robert Duvall.
Run Time: 128 min.
US Release: 23 December 2022 (limited release)
UK Release: 06 January 2023 (Netflix)
German Release: 23 December 2022 (limited release)
Netflix’s first new release of 2023, is a period piece murder mystery, adapted from the novel of the same name by author Louis Bayard, and directed by Scott Cooper, the man who bestowed us with the supernatural horror flick Antlers. Right from the get-go, the trailer and plot intrigued me, not just because it cast Christian Bale in the lead role. The atmosphere that was evoked in the promotional material looked interesting. Question is, how does the overall product fair, with how it was promoted? Let’s inspect The Pale Blue Eye…
When world-weary detective Landor is summoned by military officers of West Point Academy, to investigate the murder of one of their cadets, the investigator is forced to enlist one of their own, to unravel the case. A young man, with a passion for poetry, going by the name of Edgar Allan Poe.
I can’t compare it to Louis Bayard’s source material, as I haven’t read the novel myself, however, the movie did spark my interest and I already ordered a copy to read.
That said, the adapted screenplay written by Scott Cooper, who directed as well, is the feature's weakest point. Unbalanced, just as being around ten-to-fifteen minutes too long, this period piece drags at times, while skipping over potentially exciting aspects.
Let’s start with the positives, as the story sets up an eerie, uneasy atmosphere, right from the beginning, by opening with an interesting mystery for a world-renowned detective to solve. The creepy tone is very distinct but consistent throughout the runtime, suiting Poe’s style of literature. Speaking about the poet, it is worth noting that although this is a work of fiction, historically-accurate events are interlaced into the narrative, giving it a realistic touch.
Where the script falls short, is in developing the murder case to keep the enigma of who did it fascinating for audiences. Then there is the uneven pacing, which makes the long runtime very noticeable. Along the second half, the plot makes a shift in focus, away from the case towards a developing romance between two characters. That moment, which includes a focal point towards a family, screeches the film’s progression to a near halt. Instead of fleshing out the victims' backgrounds, which would have improved the shocking third act, the choice was made to concentrate too much on the wrong set of characters.
The dialogue suits the epoch of the plot, containing energetic exchanges between the detective and Edgar A. Poe. The fascination with death is very much explored through conversations.
Christian Bale is as always fantastic! He immerses himself completely into the fictitious role of Augustus Landor, a veteran investigator, tired of life and the world around him. It is implied early on that he is a single parent, but his daughter ran off years prior, leaving him heartbroken. Bale manages to capture well the weariness of his persona, always keeping people at an arm's length, even those who he likes. He feels as if he were broken!
Harry Melling, who plays poet and West Point cadet Edgar Allan Poe, steals the show from Bale. Not only did he give a joyful, quirky plus energetic performance, as the renowned poet, he also has wonderful chemistry with Bale, giving his character depth and sentiment. Poe himself is very perceptive, having a sense for the macabre, reflected of course in his poetry, with a distinct take on death.
Of the many other performances out of the supporting cast, it is Lucy Boynton as Lea Marquis, who made the biggest impression. At first coming off as emotionally shut-off, to the point of seemingly being one-dimensional, her character proves to have more depth than presumed at first glance.
The cinematography is the best part of this flick, hands down! The shot composition, framing, as well as configuration of light and shadows is magnificent. The colour palette contains a blue hue, which suits the setting of winter plus the atmosphere of despair. Masanobu Takayanagi did a terrific job as director of photography, creating one of the most beautiful period pieces I have ever seen.
The setting adds to the horror-like tone, as the winter scenery of dead and desolate woods of 1830s New York is being explored. The production value looks amazing; the set design is modelled after the period, as is the hair, makeup plus costume design, not only looking realistic but also of high quality.
The score composed by the great Howard Shore contains a hauntingly eerie orchestral soundtrack, that underlines the desperation, just like the subject of death.
Verdict: The new Netflix feature by Scott Cooper is passable, though not without flaws, especially in the story department. While the performances by Christian Bale and especially Harry Melling, as a young E.A. Poe, are incredible, stellar achievements. While the cinematography, effects, as well as costume and set design, are hauntingly breathtaking, staying true to the era this plays in. While the plot is enveloped in an eerie, nearly depressive atmosphere that suits the narrative, it is the script, which brought the overall score down by one-and-a-half points. Starting masterfully, by presenting audiences with a deadly mystery, it soon tangles itself up in too many subplots. The romantic angle is unnecessarily elongated, yet other arcs worth exploring were left cold. I have not read the novel up to now, however, I’ll deduce that the source material is better than its adaptation. The Pale Blue Eye obtains a 6.5 out of 10.
So did you get the chance to watch Netflix’s newest release yet? Do you agree with my point of view? Let me know & as always thank you very much for reading!