The Pale Blue Eye Review: The melancholy overpowers the mystery
The Pale Blue Eye works more as a melancholic exploration of loss and love than as a mystery with suspenses and thrills
Beneath all the layers of mystery, the unravelling of clues, and the thrill of solving a puzzle, what The Pale Blue Eye actually offers is a sincere attempt at exploring the effects of loss. A sense of delectable melancholy pervades the entire film. The Pale Blue Eye is a rather old-fashioned murder mystery, and to point that out is not a demerit to the story but to redirect attention to its stronger aspects.
The film follows Augustus Landor (Christian Bale), a widowed alcoholic detective who investigates the mysterious death of a cadet at a Military Academy, with the possible murder having occult motives. He is aided by a young cadet, a fictionalisation of writer Edgar Allan Poe, played brilliantly by Henry Melling.
Streaming on Netflix
Director: Scott Cooper
Cast: Christian Bale, Harry Melling, Lucy Boynton, Gillian Anderson, Toby Jones
The film is almost entirely charged with the performances of Bale and Melling. Christian Bale carries overpowering pain that dominates the any thrill and suspense offered by the story. Why you would need a real-life personality such as Edgar Allan Poe inside this fiction puzzles you at the beginning, but it dawns on you once you sink into the atmosphere of the story. Who best to walk you into a world built with romance for the macabre and one that captures love, loss, and regret with a poetic eye, if not Poe?
The flip side is, if you seek the joys of a murder mystery, you might be disappointed. The clues are all laid out thickly, and the appeal of the film is less in the mystery than in the exploration into the father-son, mentor-student character dynamics between Landor (Christian Bale) and Poe (Melling). Steering clear of plot contrivances, the story derives its momentum almost entirely from Bale and Melling’s performances, a rarity for a murder mystery.
The Pale Blue Eye does get bogged down by all the exposition—like the protagonist being recruited for a job and his recruiter reading a file that lays out the person's entire life history. There is also the tedious trope of a person from the past (read, dead lover, wife, daughter) remembered through a muted flashback that shows them only ever smiling.
Following the familiar structure of a detective thriller, the mystery that we have been following all along is solved and then, you realise there’s more. While the resolution for the primary mystery leaves us unsatisfied, the final reveal offers some respite with its audacious push to explore the effects of loss, guilt, and regret in a person. Christian Bale chews up every scene he steps in while Henry Melling proves to us once again that he deserves more appreciation for his talents. He wonderfully resurrects Edgar Allan Poe, conjuring him up from the image an enthralled reader might get from his works.
The Pale Blue Eye does not endeavour to supply a fresh take on the genre but still compels you to care for characters and move you with emotional performances. This film that might over-indulge in macabre themes like death has a lot of life.