Directed by: Scott Cooper
Distributed by: Netflix
Written by Taylor Baker
Christian Bale’s return to the silver screen in 2022 after a brief (three-year hiatus) has been unimpressive. Appearing first as Gorr the villain in the forgettable new Thor film, “Thor: Love and Thunder,” as Burt co-lead in “Amsterdam” David O. Russell’s first film since 2015’s “Joy,” and now as a Detective Landon in Scott Cooper’s “The Pale Blue Eye.” It doesn’t seem that Bale has in any meaningful way “lost” the qualities that saw him nominated for multiple awards in back-to-back years with 2018’s “Vice” and 2019’s “Ford v. Ferrari.” But, his commitment and talent are ill-used this year as he’s been featured in projects that leave much to be desired on page long before filming began.
“The Pale Blue Eye” is set at West Point, New York in the 1830s, where a young Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling) is stationed. His fellow cadets keep turning up dead, and he keeps trying to find a way to be useful to Bale’s detective Augustus Landor. Cooper’s film is at its best and most squeamish when looking at the dead bodies in the morgue, examining them for clues with close-ups of the camera and men’s fingers running along the length of the corpse for a hint of the cause of death. Likewise when both Poe and Landor are walking from one settlement to another in the bleakness of night that the isolation and fear of the killer are tangible.
But, the film becomes mired in its failure to successfully create intrigue in its misdirections and interpersonal relationships. A staple of any good detective story, and a sure sign that Cooper wasn’t equipped to adapt a novel to the screen. There is no doubt that there are the trappings of a strong film within the text of Louis Bayard’s novel by the same name. But the film Cooper presents has only the barest of inklings of how to bring to life the moroseness and disheartenment of the troupe of West Point cadets. It fails to convey the trepidation and helplessness that multiple characters assert to be the case. And when the penultimate and ultimate truths finally arrive it is with a whimper, absent both the satisfaction and catharsis that signify an audiences investment in the narrative. Not to mention the female characters each exist for seemingly no reason other than a specific function unique to each that advances the plot in a hamfisted way.
With a commanding performance by Bale, exquisite exterior cinematography wrought from natural lighting by Masanobu Takayanagi, and a committed turn by Melling as Poe, it’s unfortunate that “The Pale Blue Eye” is a meandering disappointment. Cooper is still a steady enough hand if J.A.G. (Just Another Guy) at director, but that seems to be all he is.
“The Pale Blue Eye” Trailer