The Pale Blue Eye Review: Tell-Tale Heart

If what you look for in a period movie is a cast of characters made up exclusively of weird-looking people who all probably need a shower, Scott Cooper’s new gothic mystery has you covered. However, if you desire a mystery that sustains intrigue for most of its runtime then you’re better off looking elsewhere. The Pale Blue Eye has a great opening hook and the central murder case is suitably dark but it fails to sustain itself to be truly satisfying.

Set in the winter of 1830 in and around West Point Military Academy, The Pale Blue Eye is a cold film. I mean that both figuratively and literally. Vast landscapes covered in snow and fog are only ever lightened by the faint flame of someone’s lantern in the darkness. The setting and cinematography are a perfect match for the case at the center of the film which involves carved-out hearts, possible satanic rituals, and Edgar Allen Poe.

Christian Bale’s detective Augustus Landor, a part Bale could play in his sleep, is helped in his case by the famed gothic author. The Poe we meet in the film is a cadet in the academy and not yet the famous author we all know. Though he’s still very much the writer/poet that would go on to invent the detective story and that’s what he and Landor believe makes him useful in helping solve this macabre case.

Poe, played by Harry Melling is an intriguing oddball. He’s both what you would expect of a portrayal of the author of The Raven and yet a little livelier and somehow more strange. It works as does his partnership with Bale’s world-weary detective. Landor is your stock noir detective, complete with dark baggage and a penchant for seclusion. Bale’s performance gives him enough layers and quirks to stop him from becoming a cliché and keep everything engaging. The supporting cast also all do their part with oddball turns from the likes of Gillian Anderson and Toby Jones among others to make sure nothing becomes dull.

I wish I could say the same about the story itself. It starts well enough but a mystery thriller is only as good as the mystery remains mysterious. The film never makes a case for enough characters to be plausible suspects so it doesn’t take long before you’re just waiting for them to get on with the whole thing. The ending puts new things into perspective as to why that might be a deliberate choice but it’s done in such a haphazardly rushed way and the pieces aren’t planted in a satisfying enough way to care at that point.

The other part of the puzzle that doesn’t quite fit is Poe himself. While the performance is good and it’s a fun concept, the film never gives justification for why this character is Edgar Allen Poe. Perhaps it’s different in the book the film is based on but as he’s presented in the film, he could be anyone, and nothing in the film would change. It feels like nothing more than a fun gimmick and while there’s nothing wrong with a fun gimmick, here it detracts from scenes that should be tense.

Because it’s Edgar Allen Poe, we know nothing can happen to him so any sense of danger is discarded. There’s a brief mention of him possibly becoming a suspect which would have been an interesting place to take it but the film hangs on to that thread for less than five minutes.

The Pale Blue Eye is well-made and well acted but it’s missing a key piece of the mystery thriller puzzle. The cast keeps it interesting enough and the first act provides an engaging hook, it quickly becomes apparent that the film can’t maintain the intrigue necessary to sustain itself until the end.

Rating: Cruise Control

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Published by Matt Fresh

30% Water, 70% James Bond movies. Matt is a writer, gamer, film enthusiast & silly person. The winner of various fictitious awards, he's fluent in English & pop culture references.

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