TL;DR – It has a mood and the performances to match, but the narrative just didn’t hook me.
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Disclosure – I paid for the Netflix service that viewed this film.
Warning – Contains scenes that may cause distress.
The Pale Blue Eye Review –
It is time to jump back in time when women’s dresses came in many layers, the army was dressed in blue, and mutton chops were everywhere. It is an era I like when we jump into mysteries because it feels like a world where everyone is prim and proper, but that is just a veneer. It is in this world we find ourselves in as people start dying in the most unpleasant ways.
So to set the scene, it is a foggy night, but from the gloom, we can see a man hanging from a tree. It is 1830 in Hudson Valley, New York, and Det. Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) has just been summoned to West Point Military Academy by Superintendent Thayer (Timothy Spall). They need someone with discretion. A cadet killed himself, and then his body was violated. This is a political timebomb, and the academy is desperately trying to get the case solved before certain senators in Washington find out.
The bleak winter weather and 1800s setting does a lot to add to the mood, which is only accelerated by the addition of Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling). It gives the film an almost black-and-white feel to it. All snow and bare tree trunks. Add a helpful heaping of occult shenanigans, candlelight rendezvous, and Harry Melling bringing a southern drawl so strong it would make Benoit Blanc take a turn. It creates a mood that fits the tone the film is going for.
While there is a mood, you need to support this with performances that match, and this is a bit of a mixed bag. Christian Bale does an excellent job of presenting a person with the confidence they need, but through tragedy, he is only a step away from falling if his personal precipice. Harry Melling’s performance swings for the fences and does not always hit. I mean, I can’t be too harsh of someone who yelled Books! with an exuberance of joy that could not be matched. Unfortunately, it did feel like a lot of the cast was satirical takes on the material, which just does not fit the tone the film is going for.
For a film built around a mystery, the mystery itself was possibly the dullest part of the narrative. It felt too restrained to take the occult sections seriously, like the film couldn’t commit to its central premise. Parts of the story felt more like an afterthought than part of the whole. Both of these factors mean that when you get to the final act, it robs it of any emotional investment, which is a shame.
In the end, do we recommend The Pale Blue Eye? I am not sure that I can. It has a mood and the performances to match, but unfortunately, the narrative just didn’t hook me, and that is something you need in a film like this. If you liked The Pale Blue Eye, we would recommend to you Bad Times at the El Royale.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Pale Blue Eye
Directed by – Scott Cooper
Screenplay by – Scott Cooper
Based on – The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard
Music by – Howard Shore
Cinematography by – Masanobu Takayanagi
Edited by – Dylan Tichenor
Production/Distribution Companies – Cross Creek Pictures, Streamline Global Group, Le Grisbi Productions & Netflix
Starring – Christian Bale, Harry Melling, Gillian Anderson, Lucy Boynton, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Toby Jones, Harry Lawtey, Simon McBurney, Timothy Spall, Robert Duvall, Hadley Robinson, Joey Brooks, Brennan Keel Cook, Gideon Glick, Fred Hechinger, Matt Heim, Steven Maier & Charlie Tahan
Rating – Australia: MA15+;