FILM COLUMN: The Pale Blue Eye

Christian Bale in The Pale Blue Eye

THE Pale Blue Eye stars Christian Bale as Augustus Landor, a retired detective who teams up with a young Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling) to solve a series of grisly murders at West Point.

Based on the best-selling novel by Louis Bayard, Netflix’s first big movie of 2023 is a slow-burner that brims over with atmosphere and, despite its many loose ends, is highly suspenseful.

Director Scott Cooper could have done a lot more with this mystery thriller, it is certainly bereft of a killer ending, but he brings plenty of gloomy ambience to proceedings.

Set in 1830, the film opens with brokenhearted and weary sleuth Augustus Landor (Bale), summoned to West Point to delve into the brutal murder of a young cadet found with his heart skilfully removed. The fledgling academy fears irreparable damage to its reputation should word of this gruesome butchery get out.

Landor is asked to investigate but is stonewalled by the cadets’ code of silence and must enlist one of their own to pursue the case. Playing Watson to his Sherlock is an eccentric young cadet with a disdain for the regimented life of the military and is instead lost in all things poetic and macabre — a young man named Edgar Allan Poe.

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Harry Melling, known for playing Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter films, is mesmeric in the intensity of his performance. I last saw Melling in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, where he was equally spellbinding as the armless, legless, golden-voiced Harrison. He truly steals the show in Cooper’s film, which is no easy task when you consider he is sharing the screen with Christian Bale.

The performances from our two leading men are powerful and keep us engaged for the duration. The film itself leaves us wanting more and feeling let down by a rather unsatisfying finale.

The Pale Blue Eye captures the essence of Poe’s writing but, as a thriller, leaves us unfulfilled.