While the twists and turns will keep one invested in the dark mystery, it is not without its flaws
Last Updated: 06.40 AM, Jan 07, 2023
Story: A renowned detective in 1830 New York named Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) is tasked with investigating the mysterious death and mutilation of a cadet from a United States Military Academy. He enlists the help of another cadet to solve the mystery — a fictionalised version of famed writer Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling).
Review: Steve Cooper’s adaptation of Louis Bayard’s eponymous 2003 novel offers a morbid murder mystery with an air of the occult casting a shadow over the case. More interestingly, it offers a concise portrait of early 19th-century New York, a city on its way towards cultural integration. The visuals, costume design, and gothic aesthetic add to the film’s charm, which is already elevated by its star-studded ensemble.
The narrative does not waste any time and jumps straight into the thick of the action as Christian Bale’s Landor begins to hunt for clues to shed light on the murder of the young cadet. He befriends Edgar Allan Poe, essayed by Harry Melling with just the right amount of charm, sophistication, and eccentricity. One might even be forgiven if they fail to recognise The Queen’s Gambit star from his younger days as Dudley Dursley from Harry Potter.
Landor and Poe’s investigation has a buddy-cop dynamic to it and the 19th-century setting adds a unique dimension to the film. The narrative also teases the idea of supernatural elements by tapping into New York’s turbulent history with witch trials and superstition. And until the final act of the film, the plot will leave one guessing whether the story does feature the occult. There is also an element of dark humour in the narrative, largely thanks to the efforts of Edgar Allan Poe which does not feel out of place in this dark tale.
Bale perfectly captures the angst and trauma of a man who lost his daughter while struggling to hide his pain. Whereas, Melling nails the eccentricity of Poe, or at least the pop-culture interpretation of Poe, whilst also adding a touch of flair with a Southern accent. Tobey Jones, Gillian Anderson, Harry Lawtey, and Lucy Boynton essay roles of the eerie Marquis family. While veterans Timothy Spall, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Simon McBurney, and Robert Duvall slip into other supporting roles.
While there are plenty of positives, such as Bale’s excellent performance and its gripping screenplay, the ending almost negates whatever is good about the film. Of course, the final twist is unexpected but the exposition is drawn out to the point where it becomes redundant. The final act of the film features Bale and Melling showcasing their acting prowess but the story lacks a nuanced element that could’ve concluded it neatly. Instead, the film constantly shifts from a whodunnit to gothic horror, and finally to a revenge story without subtlety.
Verdict: Steve Cooper’s The Pale Blue Eye is an engaging whodunnit elevated by its star-studded ensemble. Lead stars Christian Bale and Harry Melling are outstanding but the final act of the film leaves a lot to be desired.