The Pale Blue Eye review: Almost packs a punch

A murder mystery thriller, The Pale Blue Eye focuses on detective Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) as he investigates the killing of a cadet at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York in 1830. He eventually teams up with an eccentric cadet with a disdain for the military, Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling).

It is based on the eponymous 2003 book by Louis Bayard.

Warning: This article contains heavy spoilers


The Pale Blue Eye is set in 1830 and opens by introducing detective Augustus Landor. A former police officer, he is called in by the higher-ups at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York to deal with the peculiarity surrounding a cadet’s alleged suicide.

Cadet Leroy Fry is found hanging from a tree the night before, but his heart is carved out by an unknown person in the morgue later. Landor begins investigating and quickly discovers that the boy was murdered.

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He also finds a part of a note clenched in Fry’s right hand and takes the help of a cadet named Edgar Allan Poe to decode it. Landor and Poe team up to solve the case, which points to satanic ritualistic killings.

However, despite the obvious, there is always more to life than meets the eye.


Christian Bale is a legend in the industry and this role feels too easy for him. He portrays Landor with a certain lack of emotion yet manages to bring out his complexities layer by layer. There is a certain sadness about him throughout the narrative, and the conclusion rightfully justifies it.

Harry Melling as the young version of the famous poet Edgar Allan Poe is simply unmatched. It is safe to say he outshines Bale with his performance which is nuanced, peculiar, and downright brilliant. Apart from these traits, Melling successfully brings out Poe’s vulnerabilities as a sensitive human being, yearning for human connection.

The Pale Blue Eye’s supporting cast is a stellar one, featuring Gillian Anderson, Toby Jones, Timothy Spall, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Lucy Boynton, among others. All of them play an important role in driving the plot by putting their best foot forward.


Starting with the basics, The Pale Blue Eye features hauntingly beautiful locations with its snowy landscapes which are captured masterfully by cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi.

Howard Shore’s music also is the perfect mood setter for this gothic thriller. It features a runtime of 128 minutes which helps it to be interesting enough without slipping into the boring category. It also doesn’t hold back on the gore, making the deaths feel authentic.

Now, director Scott Cooper’s story takes a lot of inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe’s works to build its world. It is dark, macabre, and filled with complex characters yet has subtle hints of positive emotions.

It is also a delight to witness Bale and Melling’s relationship develop on screen as they share remarkable chemistry. Even when the plot dwindles a little, they hold it together with ease.


Though The Pale Blue Eye is masterful with its execution in many aspects, the actual murder mystery isn’t that intriguing. Sure, the mystique around ritualistic killings persists initially, but it vanishes when more attention is given to Landor and Poe as characters rather than the development of the plot.

It is certainly not predictable, but it is also not thrilling enough. The twist, in the end, is unexpected, but the nature of it feels underwhelming. A simple revenge plot doesn’t do justice to a film with such a great premise featuring Edgar Allan Poe as a character.

It still would have worked if the climax wasn’t just one big discussion between the two leads, revealing everything. Some subtle and non-linear narrative techniques may have helped Cooper stick the landing more effectively.


As an experience, The Pale Blue Eye is one of the good ones. The film may have minor flaws, but once Bale and Melling get into their zone, this murder mystery thriller has the potential to keep you hooked till the end.

The Pale Blue Eye
The Pale Blue Eye review: Almost packs a punch 1

Director: Scott Cooper

Date Created: 2023-01-07 01:18

Editor's Rating:

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