The Pale Blue Eye was a beautifully shot mystery set in the 1800s. I am constantly amazed by Harry Melling and his performance alone is a great reason to stream this movie now. SPOILERS AHEAD!!
TL;DR 4/5 Stars. I’ll probably watch it a few times. Detective mystery movies are not my favorites, but the performances in the film really sell it.
Synopsis for The Pale Blue Eye based on the book of the same title from IMDb: “A world-weary detective is hired to investigate the murder of a West Point cadet. Stymied by the cadets’ code of silence, he enlists one of their own to help unravel the case – a young man the world would come to know as Edgar Allan Poe.”
I want to start this review off by simply talking about why detective mystery movies really aren’t my favorite. The best detective movies I have ever seen are Se7en, The Batman (2022), Knives Out, and the Glass Onion, but even those movies don’t feel like really good mysteries to me. The problem that most detective mystery movies have is they hide crucial information. It almost seems they do it so the detective looks smarter than the audience, but it only seems this way because they end up having some secret knowledge that’s never been shared with us.
With the Glass Onion for instance a lot of information is revealed in a huge flashback that starts off the second act. I don’t consider the old “there was a hidden thing in the movie that revealed the answer in that one scene” bit to make it a good mystery. I would love for a mystery movie to reveal everything to me as I’m walking through chronologically, and the mystery is great enough that I am trying to solve it along with a protagonist.
I feel like The Batman did this well, but the mystery he was trying to solve was who dun it, and the audience already knew. Yeah, it was fun watching him solve it, but I was just a viewer and not a participant in the mystery. Sure the final plan of The Riddler in that film was a mystery, but it wasn’t revealed until it was too late so we were excluded from that altogether. All that being said, for me, a great detective mystery would include its viewers in the mystery-solving as participants and not just bystanders and I have yet to see one do that.
The Pale Blue Eye is a detective movie that’s mysterious element is intriguing, but the final twist at the end feels disconnected from the clues that were given. Maybe it’s just me. Let us go ahead and talk about the fails of this movie.
The movie’s linch-pin was that Edgar Allen Poe was a featured main character in it. We could have replaced Poe with any other character and the movie would have been left completely unchanged. The addition of Poe was completely superfluous to the story and felt unnecessary. There was nothing inherent about the character that required him to be THE Edgar Allen Poe.
The showdown between Marquis family was very strange. This movie has a lot of occultic themes for the antagonist. It’s an interesting angle however, I always feel like movies that are trying to be historic but involve secret societies and witchcraft are just plain weird. This may be because whenever some occultic ritual is shown all the characters become eccentric and act ridiculous rather than people who are convicted by these extreme beliefs. Though the mother did act strange all the time during the film, I would have never pegged her for someone dabbling in witchcraft. The last thing I’ll say about the showdown is the weird CGI when the Marquis son and daughter, Artemis and Lea, are crushed by firey beams. It’s obviously fake and looks terrible. I would have settled for the old firey beams falling in front of the protagonist and blocking the view of death.
I want to gradually work my way up to what I loved about this movie. Before I do that let’s talk about some things that were okay. The ending of the movie was okay. The movie ends with the revelation that Gus Landor (Christian Bale) had been the murderer all along to avenge the sexual assault of his daughter which led her to fall into a depression that eventually led to her tragic suicide.
I had this thought in the back of my head the whole time. It was obvious that Landor’s daughter was dead. He gives the excuse that she “ran away with someone”, but the way Landor mourns for her it’s an obvious lie. The thought that he may have killed the victim of the film crossed my mind faintly, but what kept me from considering it was how hard Landor was trying to solve the mystery. Reflecting now, as I write this, the mystery he was trying to solve was who was performing these occultic rituals in the hopes to pin the entire murder on them, so it actually works really well and maybe the real reason I’m not keen on detective mystery movies is that I’m too stupid to get it on the first viewing. We’ll shelve that topic and just chalk it up to they aren’t really my cup of tea.
The ending twist of Landor being the true murderer did, upon first viewing, help with the showdown against the Marquis family. If the movie ended after that I think I would have really felt it was a dumb movie wrapped in good performances, but as attested in the above paragraph the twist worked really well and helped the third act not seem out of left field.
Another okay thing was Christian Bale’s performance. Christian Bale seems like Christian Bale playing American-accented Christian Bale in most movies he plays in. You could have told me this was the same character from his other Scott Cooper movie Hostiles (2017) and I would have believed you. What I’m trying to say is when I watch a movie with Christian Bale in it I don’t feel like I’m watching a character, I feel like I’m watching Christian Bale and so I can’t immerse myself into it. Now on the other hand…
Let’s talk about what I loved about this movie, and that is Harry Melling. Harry Melling plays Edgar Allen Poe in this movie. I’ve always thought of Edgar Allen Poe as someone who is melancholy and somber with a very proper accent, being a poet and all. Harry Melling plays Poe as an eccentric and macabre character who loves to talk and share his gift of gab and poetry. His accent is less proper and more debutant and filled with pageantry and Melling steals every scene he is in. His performance drew me in and often made me laugh, especially when he visits the home of Landor and exclaims “Books!” at the sight of a shelf full of volumes. Melling is definitely the star of this movie and I often feel that Bale does best when in scenes with him. Perhaps Bale felt the need to step up his acting when on screen with Melling. It is a treat to see one of the Harry Potter actors really outgrow that franchise and become a true performer. (Melling played Harry’s sniveling cousin, Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter movies).
All in all the movie was really good. Though not as gripping as I would hope it would have been it did have the air of The Prestige, but without all the Nolanism to it. The cinematography was beautiful, the performances were great, and the dialogue felt very natural for what we perceive to be for that period. Speaking of the performances, the whole cast does well in this movie and it’s a testament to Scott Cooper’s directing ability, but if I went into detail about all of them this would be a slog of a read.
Another movie I wish I would have seen in theaters, but I waited until it was streaming for some reason. Maybe I’m just not ready to go back to the theaters, but I hope that movies like The Pale Blue Eye never stop being made.