Movie Review: “The Pale Blue Eye”


By Nicholas Kitay

“The Pale Blue Eye,” released on Dec. 23, 2022, is a macabre murder mystery that is both grim and satisfyingly intricate.

Director Scott Cooper is a filmmaker known for making adrenaline-filled action movies or sappy romance comedies. However, he has produced some emotionally inspiring movies. “Hostiles” and “Crazy Heart” are examples of some of his more thought-provoking and deeper works. While his latest film doesn’t quite reach that level of excellence, it certainly does the book it was based on, justice.

In “The Pale Blue Eye,” Christian Bale stars as Augustus Landor, a retired detective who is thrust back into the life of illusions and murder. Alongside Bale, Timothy Spall appears as Superintendent Thayer and Harry Melling stars as Edgar Allan Poe. Melling’s performance furthered the ominous and somber atmosphere of the movie. The writing for Melling’s character, coupled with his phenomenal acting, rivals Bale’s performance and is arguably the underrated gem of the film.

Set in the 1830s, “The Pale Blue Eye” has Landor living near the military academy West Point. Landor receives a request from the school’s superintendent to investigate a death by suicide on campus. It is as Landor begins his inquiries into the death that he meets Poe, the real-life poet and cadet who offers Landor plenty of insight into the mystery and a fair share of grim poetry.

Without a doubt, Bale and Melling were the most interesting characters as much of the movie’s mystery surrounded their ventures. Their dialogue and voices created a sense of eerie calmness throughout the film, and each scene featuring their characters is more cerebral than physical. As their relationship develops alongside the plot, it’s fascinating to watch their separate stories realign towards the end.

The usage of lighting, depth of field, camera angles and composition are spectacular in this movie. The realistic and dramatic film set also helped to highlight the gloominess of this world. The costume design of the film stood out by juxtaposing the otherwise dreary color palette of the scenes.

While “The Pale Blue Eye” did have depth and was carefully executed (most notably at the end of the movie), the plot of the movie wasn’t incredibly unique as it does follow the typical formula of a movie mystery. As predictable as it may be on the surface, the plot does still keep you guessing thanks to the intricate portrayal of the characters involved.

The scene design of the movie does; however, leaves a little bit to be desired since much of West Point’s architecture and many of the movie’s geographical landmarks are not displayed in detail.

This movie is not by any means fast-paced like most action or horror movies. But, it isn’t so slow that one would succumb to boredom. Many might view the last half-hour or so of the movie to be melodramatic, but that can be easily overlooked as everything culminates in a satisfying ending. It can also be argued that the melodrama of the latter part of the movie is what makes the ending so unique as compared to the rest of the plot.

The tasteful balance between realism, drama, morbidity and the supernatural is a big part of what makes “The Pale Blue Eye” stand out from other mystery movies.

For fans of the occult, macabre and all things morbid, this movie is a definite must. While it is by no means a masterpiece, it’s still fantastic. The aesthetics are something to admire, and the acting, writing, set design, costume design and cinematography coalesce into a worthwhile viewing.