Pale is certainly one word I could use to describe Scott Copper’s moody, murder mystery thriller.
Set in 1830 at a military academy in West Point, New York, retired detective Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) is forced back into action at the request of military officials after a cadet is found hanged just outside of their post. Enlisting the help of Edgar Allen Poe – yes, THAT Edgar Allen Poe, played here by Harry Melling – whose interest in the case and sharp expertise could help detective Landor solve this grisly mystery.
The Pale Blue Eye commits to its period in terrific fashion. Leaning into its 19th century setting that it almost makes you forget how empty and lifeless it all feels. New York’s Hudson Valley certainly looks great in the snow, and is perfectly aesthetical to the cold and dour nature of its narrative. The pacing of the ‘The Pale…’ is slow, but purposefully so, and as these two men continue to dig through the growing darkness of its tone, it continues to be relentlessly bleak in an uncomplimentary sort of way.
Actor turned director Scott Cooper has shown he knows how to shoot a movie, but his lack of captivating an audience seems synonymous with his work. Out of the Furnace (2013) and Black Mass (2015) are both evidence of this but his partnership with cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (The Grey, Warrior) here, seems to visually create the tone and mood in which Louis Bayard was going for in his 2003 novel. The angles are right, the scenery often picture perfect, but the story itself never really does it justice.
We’ve seen Bale play the brooding, battered type before and Augustus Landor is just another role he can add to his impressive career. The decorated detective has a damaged past, one that he chooses to keep bottled up. Being a widower and having his daughter walk out on him some years prior to the events in this movie, Landor sinks his sorrows with the drinks he sips. His partnership with Poe operates only on their shared curiosity to the case and rarely digs deeper than that.
The story makes some odd decisions. Some character motives feel unnatural and the third act offers a few twists, with some going the route of the supernatural. The final twist in the tale was certainly unexpected, but it was ultimately the saving grace of the whole plot.
The Pale Blue Eye is a handsome but rather hollow and uninteresting thriller, with two strong performances from Bale and Melling holding it all together, but leaves other stars like Toby Jones and Gillian Anderson with little to do.
Much is to be expected from his career, Scott Cooper’s latest is just another example of wasted potential mostly distinguishable by its sluggish storytelling.