Film Review

The Pale Blue Eye

todayJune 1, 2023 174

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By – Gareth Jones

For fans of Christian Bale, Edgar Allan Poe, American Folk Horror Murder Mystery

Former actor Scott Cooper has now written and directed six films.  Three of those have starred Christian Bale.  As he has done with other directors, Bale works best when he has a strong collaborative relationship.  That is certainly the case with Cooper.  Starting with Out of the Furnace in 2013, continuing with Hostiles in 2017, and now in 2022 with The Pale Blue Eye, Bale and Cooper have created a string of powerful performances.  In the last case, Bale is a slow-burning powder keg of emotions as he plays a retired detective investigating the death of a cadet at West Point in 1830.  He is a widower and an alcoholic with the one leading to the other.  At the academy is also a young cadet named Edgar Allan Poe, brought to life by the talents of Harry Melling, doing a masterful job of making all of us forget he started out his acting career in the Harry Potter series as Dudley Dursey.  He creates a highly energetic and distinctive performance that balances against Bale’s quiet emotions bubbling beneath the surface..  Together they investigate a series of deaths with numerous easter eggs for Poe fans along the way.  Based on the 2003 novel by Louis Bayard, the film does a lovely job of moving beyond fan fiction and building a strong representation of Poe’s early development even though it is far from factual.  The spirit of Poe is alive in the film and particularly in Melling’s performance.  It is the relationship between these two characters that is the heart of the film and they play beautifully against each other. 

Along with Melling, Bale is joined by the talents of Timothy Spall, Gillian Andeson, Toby Jones, and Charlotte Gainsbourg.  A special treat is the small but important character of Jean Pepe, delightfully played by Robert Duvall.

The cinematography of Masanobu Takayanagi (who has worked with Cooper since Out of the Furnace) perfectly captures the cold landscape of upstate New York in winter.  Unlike many recent productions, the night scenes are actually still visible (looking at you Game of Thrones) and build a strong folk horror atmosphere.  

Scott Cooper is also known for his adherence to authenticity through production design (this was especially the case in Hostiles, what I consider to be one of the finest westerns of the 21st century) and here the work of Stefania Cella combine with the costumes of Kasia Walika Maimone to give the actors the feel and look of authenticity.  It is reminiscent of the work of Jack Fisk’s design for Terrence Malick.  It gives the actors the ability to inhabit the roles and breathe life into each character.

Like his other work, Cooper’s films often receive lukewarm reception from critics and audiences but over time the appreciation of his work changes and I believe this film will fall into that same pattern.

Streaming now on Netflix.

Written by: Gareth Jones

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