The Pale Blue Eye (2022) poster

The Pale Blue Eye (2022)


USA. 2022.


Director/Screenplay – Scott Cooper, Based on the Novel by Louis Bayard, Producers – Christian Bale, Scott Cooper, John Lesher & Tyler Thompson, Photography – Masanobu Takayanagi, Music – Howard Shore, Visual Effects Supervisor – Jake Braver, Visual Effects – Cadence FX (Supervisor – Craig Crawford), Industrial Light and Magic (Supervisor – Scott Pritchard), MPC (Supervisor – Vadim Turchin), Phosphene (Supervisor – Tim Van Horn) && Pixomondo (Supervisors – Arek Komorowski & Bojan Zoric), Special Effects Supervisor – Jeremy Hays, Prosthetics – Morot FX Studio, Production Design – Stefania Cella. Production Company – Cross Creek Pictures/Le Grisbi Productions.


Christian Bale (Augustus Landor), Harry Melling (Cadet Edgar Allan Poe), Toby Jones (Dr Daniel Marquis), Simon McBurney (Captain Hitchcock), Timothy Spall (Superintendent Thayer), Lucy Boynton (Lea Marquis), Harry Lawtey (Cadet Artemus Marquis), Gilliam Anderson (Julia Marquis), Fred Hechinger (Cadet Randolph Ballinger), Joey Brooks (Cadet Stoddard), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Patsy), Robert Duvall (Jean Pepe), Brennan Keel Cook (Cadet Huntoon), Orlagh Cassidy (Mrs Fry)


1830. Augustus Landor lives in a cabin by the river in the Hudson Valley, having been a recluse since the death of his wife and daughter. Landor has a reputation for being able to solve crimes. He is now asked by the head of the nearby West Point Military Academy to investigate the hanging of pupil Leroy Fry. Landor quickly determines that Fry’s death was not a suicide but a murder and that his heart has been cut out. He is contacted by Edgar Allan Poe, one of the cadets, who comes forward with suggestions about the identity of the murderer. Landor agrees to unofficially take Poe on as an assistant. As they embark on their investigation, other cadets turn up murdered in what Landor discovers may be ritual Satanic killings.

The Pale Blue Eye comes from Scott Cooper, a former actor turned director who has previously made Crazy Heart (2009), Out of the Furnace (2013), Black Mass (2015) and Hostiles (2017), all non-genre works, before making the Guillermo Del Toro-produced horror film Antlers (2021). The film is adapted from The Pale Blue Eye (2006), the award-nominated fourth novel from Louis Bayard. Bayard is an author who writes historical thrillers that always wind in real-life characters such as Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy and Eugene Vidocq.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49) is a key horror writer, famous for writing works such as The Fall of the House of Usher (1839), The Masque of the Red Death (1842) and the poem The Raven (1845), among a great many others. What is of significance here is that Poe also wrote what is considered the first detective story with The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841). There have been a handful of films featuring Edgar Allan Poe as a character, all of which have been historically absurd. These have included The Spectre of Edgar Allan Poe (1974), which placed Poe in an insane asylum; The Raven (2012) with John Cusack as Poe up against a serial killer inspired by his works; and in particular Raven’s Hollow (2022), which came out four months earlier the same year and was also set around Poe’s time at West Point and becoming embroiled in a supernatural mystery.

Unlike Raven’s Hollow, The Pale Blue Eye has a decent budget thrown at it. In terms of historical realism, it looks convincingly like the real thing. Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi does a superlative job filming the bleakly frozen grounds and all the cadets lined up in their uniforms, or of midnight-lit woods with figures coming out of the mist.

Christian Bale as Augustus Landor in The Pale Blue Eye (2022)
Christian Bale as Augustus Landor
Harry Melling as Edgar Allan Poe in The Pale Blue Eye (2022)
Harry Melling as Edgar Allan Poe

The bigger budget has allowed quite an impressive name cast line-up. One of the peculiarities of this is that though the film was shot in historic areas of Pennsylvania, almost the entire cast are British. I am not sure what the reason for this is – maybe that Britain has a better quality of actors or they were better suited to playing people in the 1830 period. The sole exceptions are the French Charlotte Gainsbourg and the American Gillian Anderson (who resides in England these days anyway), where the only authentic American would seem to be an aging Robert Duvall.

None of the abovementioned Poe-based works get the character of Poe right but this is one that seems to do so. Cast with Harry Melling, best known as Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter films, Poe is nerdy, gauche and obsessively caught up in his poetic ambition and literary posturing. Melling even seems to have the ungainly bone structure that resembles something of the Poe that we see in the existing photos. Paired up against Melling, a bearded Christian Bale plays with a steely gimlet eye and nails the part perfectly.

The film has a beautifully brooding mood. It sets up a great murder mystery and creates an authentic-seeming Poe, while turning with fine twists. It does maybe slow down a little in the middle but this is only for it to pull everything together in a real humdinger of an ending. [PLOT SPOILERS] Even if it is an ending where you wonder if that is what happened, why Landor would agree to take on Poe as an assistant or for that matter accept the case itself, as surely the best thing would have been to have done nothing at all and leave what happened as the initial assumption of a suicide.

(Nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Cinematography at this site’s Best of 2022 Awards).

Trailer here

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