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A Well-Acted But Convoluted Period Mystery

Director/writer Scott Cooper and Christian Bale collaborate for the third time on a well-acted but convoluted period mystery. The Pale Blue Eye has a troubled former constable investigating bizarre murders and mutilations at the US Military Academy in 1830. He finds a strange ally in a verbose cadet who will eventually become a legendary poet. Based on the novel by Louis Bayard, The Pale Blue Eye intrigues with fascinating character dynamics and occult themes. The narrative eventually stumbles with pacing issues and a perplexing, twist-laden third act. A major plot hole makes little sense once dark secrets are revealed.

Detective Augustus Landor (Bale) receives a tense guest at his snowy cabin. Captain Hitchcock (Simon McBurney) requests his immediate presence at West Point. Cadet Leroy Fry (Matt Heim) was found hanging from a noose. The academy doctor, Daniel Marquis (Toby Jones), believes it may have been suicide. But Fry’s body also had the heart removed with surgical precision. A quick examination by Landor confirms it was indeed murder. Superintendent Player (Timothy Spall) demands complete discretion. The survival of the institution is at stake.

The Killer Is a Poet


Landor is approached by an odd cadet with otherworldly advice. Edgar Allen Poe (Harry Melling) gets spiritual inclinations from his deceased mother. He believes the killer is a poet. Landor seizes an opportunity with the loquacious outcast. Poe can be his spy among the cadets. Landor warns his eager accomplice to tread carefully.

Poe’s assistance proves beneficial from the start. Fry’s cadet acquaintances and possible love interest are promising leads. Poe’s immediately smitten by the beautiful Lea Marquis (Lucy Boynton). As Landor uncovers disturbing clues, a tragedy from his own past haunts every move. The disappearance of Landor’s daughter, Mattie (Hadley Robinson), drives his desperate need to uncover sinister truths.

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Cooper (Black Mass, Hostiles) continues to excel in setting bleak tones. Landor and Poe navigate an icy landscape of lies and human despair. An excellent supporting cast helps to hide ugly secrets in plain sight. The academy’s rigid veneer of discipline shields a devilish undercurrent. Landor struggles with his own personal demons while searching for them in others. Poe admires his mentor’s strength and keen intellect. But he’s easily enamored by those who share his elegiac tendencies. This ends up being a critical flaw in Poe’s understanding of criminal nature.

Harry Melling Carries the Film

Melling, unrecognizable from his youth as Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter franchise, carries the film with an enthusiastic performance. It’s a rare feat to steal the acting spotlight from Christian Bale. Poe’s wide-eyed weirdness adds vital energy when doom and gloom runs long. Bale allows Melling to fully inhabit his character. Landor spends a great deal of time listening to Poe’s musings. He’s distinctly different from everyone else in his environment. It makes sense for Landor to be drawn to him. Many A-list actors wouldn’t be as giving.

A pivotal plot turn takes the resolution in an unexpected direction. It’s a stretch when the same outcome could have been achieved with fewer machinations. The finale strays toward fantastic and melodramatic when it could have been concise and realistic.

The Pale Blue Eye is a production of Cross Creek Pictures and Streamline Global Group. It is currently in limited theatrical release with a January 6th streaming premiere on Netflix.




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