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The Pale Blue Eye

  • Film
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
The Pale Blue Eye

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Is this Edgar Allan Poe murder-mystery worth raven about?

This is the third collaboration between director Scott Cooper and Christian Bale, and much like the others, Out of the Furnace and Hostiles, it’s robustly acted with a strong sense of place, but a little baggy in the storytelling. The Pale Blue Eye is probably best enjoyed if you treat it as a spooky, somewhat silly yarn, rather than taking it too seriously.

It begins with a body hanging from a tree. It’s 1830 and we’re in Hudson Valley, New York. A young soldier at a remote military academy has apparently hanged himself, but his heart has been cut out, suggesting he came to a more sinister end. The head of the academy (Timothy Spall) recruits world-weary, retired detective Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) to investigate the death. Landor receives some uninvited help from another young recruit: the burgeoning horror writer Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling). There are strange things afoot.

What Poe is doing here isn’t really clear. The story and the events Poe goes through are entirely fictitious, based on Louis Bayard’s novel of the same name (the book is written as a sort of homage to Poe). Whether or not his presence makes sense quickly ceases to matter, because Poe is easily the most enjoyable element of the film. Played with a mix of wide-eyed enthusiasm and Nosferatu-esque creepiness by Harry Melling, Poe is a curiously endearing character, a man unliked by his peers and obsessed with death, yet somehow delighted by the curiosities of the world. He makes a highly entertaining counterpoint to Bale’s gruff detective.

A spooky, silly yarn that’s riddled with plot holes but packed with terrific actors

The case they’re investigating plods along dully for quite some time, before suddenly taking a – not unwelcome – lurch into the grandly gothic and patently absurd. After keeping so much of the film cool and remote, Cooper can’t smooth the transition into more lurid territory, especially when the story twists far more than is necessary. Its plot is riddled with holes and its ending is overcooked, but it’s packed with terrific actors – Toby Jones, Gillian Anderson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, even Robert Duvall – and achieves the light chill of a Christmas ghost story. Not one Poe would have been proud to write, but perhaps the sort of thing he’d read on holiday.  

In cinemas worldwide Dec 2. On Netflix Jan 6.

Olly Richards
Written by
Olly Richards

Cast and crew

  • Director:Scott Cooper
  • Screenwriter:Scott Cooper
  • Cast:
    • Christian Bale
    • Lucy Boynton
    • Gillian Anderson
    • Harry Melling
    • Charlotte Gainsbourg
    • Timothy Spall
    • Toby Jones
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