Netflix Streaming: The Pale Blue Eye (2022) - Reviewed

All photos courtesy of Netflix 

Whether you love a good whodunit or just feel like watching a Gothic masterpiece with a historically legendary character, The Pale Blue Eye will not disappoint anyone with a 3-digit IQ.

Anyone, whether acquainted or obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe would know whence comes the reference in the title, but this is hardly even pertinent in this crime mystery based on the novel by Louis Bayard.


Starring the always-formidable Christian Bale (The Dark Knight RisesAmerican Psycho)The Pale Blue Eye tells the story of veteran detective, Augustus Landor being tasked to investigate a series of ghastly murders at a military academy in 1830. In no time, he is approached by a remarkably observant cadet with a penchant for analytical thinking who quickly becomes Landor’s assistant, Fourth Classman E.A. Poe to be exact.


With a feeling of foreboding akin to 1999’s Sleepy Hollow or 2022’s Raven’s Hollow (no relation), the setting feels as morbid as the demeanor of the protagonist in his alcoholic melancholy. Landor is a widower who had lost his daughter and the mood of the film beautifully conveys the duality of both apprehension and sorrow. Naturally, the cadet who would become the famous poet and writer feeds on the challenge and intrigue of his older counterpart while they attempt to unravel the mystery behind the murders.


Long before Sherlock Holmes made his appearance, Edgar A.Poe was conjuring up macabre crime thrillers that enticed the minds of readers. The Pale Blue Eye snugly fits this paradigm in its realistic depiction of post-mortem horror done so well that you can practically smell the formaldehyde. The ominous score feels like a stalking shadow that lurches over the more tense scenes, perfectly serenading the nerves into the grip of the cold, merciless environment.


What did bother me, though, was the small coincidences. Some of the discoveries that aid the investigation’s gradual revelations are just concluded too easily with unrealistically little to factor in. Maybe I am just too simple-minded to analyze such meager clues so expertly.


Apart from the masterful direction of writer/ director Scott Cooper (Antlers, 2021) and awe-inspiring cinematography, The Pale Blue Eye boasts a fantastic ensemble of actors, mostly British. As someone who particularly enjoys the shapeshifting abilities of character actors, The Pale Blue Eye was a positively delicious smorgasbord of stellar performances to revel in. 


Seeing, for instance, Peter Pettigrew (Timothy Spall), the rat-man of the Harry Potter films in the serious role of Superintendent Thayer was a treat. Among others, iconic American actor Robert Duvall graces the screen in the almost unrecognizable guise of an occult expert and X-Files’ Gillian Anderson aptly strides as a high-class, but tragic figure. 


Speaking of the Potter bunch, if you had told me that one day, the insufferable brat Dudley Dursley would floor my expectations as an actor, I would have hit you with a resounding Avada Kedavra’ and lit my cigar. However, it happened.


Harry Melling (The Devil All the Time and The Old Guard) is extraordinary not only in his disturbingly accurate likeness of Poe, but also in the conjecture of his mannerisms and accent. It took me a while to wrap my brain around his flawless portrayal of the macabre master as a young impressionable, but already idiosyncratic cadet and I must concede; the lad had me applauding his achievement long after the 130-minute thrill had ended. Melling and Bale’s chemistry is undeniable and a huge win for The Pale Blue Eye.


For those intimidated by Poe’s linguistic preferences, fret not. The dialogue in The Pale Blue Eye is well written and intelligent. It moves along character development and exposition with just enough information while maintaining its applicable brevity. The Pale Blue Eye is a two-hour American gothic spellthat holds the attention with all its combined elements of visuals, story, plot twist and extraordinary acting.


Poe once wrote ‘Melancholy is … the most legitimate of all the poetical tones.’ If that is indeed so, then the The Pale Blue Eye is a film worthy of any poet’s amour and the envy of a host of devils.

—Tasha Danzig