New to Netflix today (following a brief run in select cinemas back in December) is the mystery-thriller, The Pale Blue Eye. The movie – written and directed by Scott Cooper – is adapted from the book of the same name by Louis Bayard, and follows the story of a detective who is tasked with investigating a series of murders at a military academy.
In the movie, the year is 1830 and Detective Augustus Landor is called to West Point, New York, to investigate the death of Leroy Fry – a cadet at the United States Military Academy. Fry was found hanged, with his body later mutilated in the morgue, and the superiors at the academy are keen to discover who was responsible.
As Landor looks into the case, he enlists the assistance of Edgar Allan Poe – a young cadet with a keen mind. Woking together, Landor and Poe try to piece together the events that led to the death of Fry.
But as the investigation deepens, more mysterious deaths occur, with similar mutilations taking place. Is this the work of a serial killer, or is there something more unusual in play?
Starring Christian Bale, Harry Melling, Gillian Anderson, Lucy Boynton, Timothy Spall, and Toby Jones, The Pale Blue Eye is a dark detective story, built around a sprawling mystery. Set during the 19th Century, the film is a period piece complete with time appropriate costumes and accents, and features a snow-covered setting which adds to the bleak, claustrophobic tone of the story.
The Pale Blue Eye is also ruddy good. The film looks beautiful, is incredibly atmospheric, and features knock-out turns from lead stars, Bale and Melling.
From the opening moments of the movie, there is a sense this is going to be an intriguing story. The Pale Blue Eye nails the feel of a Gothic picture, and then introduces Christian Bale as the detective who will lead the film.
Bale commands his initial scenes and sets his character, Augustus Landor, out to be a somewhat respected authority figure with his own personal demons. There is a bit of backstory to Landor, which is teased early on, and this leaves room for growth throughout the picture.
And then just when it appears as if this is going to be entirely Bale’s movie, the film introduces Harry Melling as Edgar Allan Poe, who slots in neatly alongside his co-star. As the slightly quirky Poe, Melling is able to stand toe-to-toe with Bale, never overshadowing him, but certainly meeting him at the same level.
As with Bale’s Landor, Melling’s Poe also arrives with his own personality and eccentricities, and this allows the character to embark on a journey of his own. This journey becomes intertwined with Landor and the pair become fascinating to watch as they try and crack the case.
Joining Bale and Melling is a great supporting cast which includes the likes of Timothy Spall and Toby Jones, as well as the always brilliant Gillian Anderson. As with her fellow supporting players, Anderson’s time on screen is brief, but she throws herself into every scene, every line, and every opportunity she is given.
Writer/director Scott Cooper has assembled a great cast in this movie, and no matter how big or small the part, everyone is pulling together in the right direction. Bale and Melling are undoubtedly the stars, but they have a great ensemble around them and it shows.
And it’s not just the cast that Cooper has at his disposal – he also has superb cinematography, lighting, sound, and everything else he could want. This film has been put together by a great team, and the results are there for all to see on screen.
It also helps that the story is very compelling, with enough intrigue to keep things going. The film is well paced, and beautifully unspooled, to ensure it doesn’t fall apart before the final reel.
The Pale Blue Eye feels very much like prestigious winter chiller, the likes of which a corporation like the BBC would air over the Christmas period, as one of its key pieces of festive entertainment. It certainly has that sense of importance and status about it, so this is a great production for Netflix.
If you like period mysteries, or you simply want something to watch while you get cosy at this time of year, then The Pale Blue Eye is definitely the movie for you. It is highly recommended and thoroughly enjoyable.
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