'The Pale Blue Eye' Review
December 22, 2022
There's no good way to say it, so I better avoid dancing around the subject and just come out with it: Christian Bale has not had a good year. Between the financial and critical disaster that was Amsterdam and the so-so quality of Thor: Love and Thunder, the payoffs have not matched the effort put in. To be fair, it’s not precisely Bale’s fault that those two movies did not meet expectations, as one actor can only do so much to affect the films they appear in. But I also can’t fully absolve him, or any other cast member within Amsterdam, of choosing to work with David O. Russell considering all that’s been revealed about him.
So, in comes The Pale Blue Eye during the waning days of 2022, hoping to salvage what remains of the year through its murder mystery story. But unlike the other Netflix murder mystery of Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, this case doesn’t contain a single smile, least of all a laugh.
That is unless you’re the kind of sadistic person who thinks that people being murdered and having their hearts carved out is some kind of sick joke. The commanders at the United States Military Academy certainly don’t believe it to be a laughing matter that their cadets are being picked off one by one. The country is still in its infancy period at this moment in 1830, and appearances are vital to becoming a legitimate world power, so having your finest soldiers in perpetual fear of being horribly mutilated isn’t such a good scenario.
Hired to solve this problem is Detective Augustus Landor (Bale), who’s been around the block more times than he can count. But the clues to this case don’t line up too well for an outsider like Landor, so he recruits a young cadet and future world-famous poet, Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling), to be his inside man.
Writer/director Scott Cooper doesn’t waste any time plunging us into this cold and desolate environment. The opening shot of a hanged victim, with the thick fog shrouding him in mystery, is a primer for the savagery found within this time period and specific location. The sun never seems to shine during the winter months, with the only light being from the candles inside dingy taverns and cottages. The gothic exteriors of the military academy don’t present a very cozy feeling for its recruits, who are much more in line with posh gentlemen than stereotypical hardened marines.
Poe seems to be the brightest of all his brothers, displaying genius levels of intellect through his frequent writing and readings of poetry. Melling overindulges on the character’s eccentricities, speaking in an accent similar to Benoit Blanc’s and with such rapid pace. Landor is the John Watson to Poe’s Sherlock Holmes, only this time the power dynamic has been reversed. Bale, who might as well be reprising his character from Cooper’s Hostiles based on his appearance and demeanor, displays a weariness within his character brought by his haunted past. It is a bit of a shame that some of the other members of this all-star cast, specifically Robert Duvall and Charlotte Gainsbourg, are wasted in nothing roles.
Ranging from music dramas to mob biopics to westerns, Cooper has always been a chameleon director, molding his style to whatever the story requires. While he’s never done exemplary work, he does bring adequate professionalism, with some flashes of brilliance. The Pale Blue Eye unfortunately doesn’t contain any out-of-this-world moments as Cooper keeps the thread that ties all the clues together close to his chest, not revealing much until the final moments. But by that point, the answers come across a bit like cheating, as everything seems to be connected because of convenience rather than reality.
But even with the central mystery within The Pale Blue Eye not entirely living up to the pedigree of its cast or the quality of its gothic production qualities, there are still enough intriguing elements within this world of the macabre. Chances are you’ll be surrounded by snow and frigid temperatures when this drops on Netflix, so you might as well settle in for a slow-burn mystery because I doubt the rest of the cinematic offerings in January will be much better.