- Release Date: 06/01/2022
- Platform: Netflix
- Cast: Christian Bale, Harry Melling, Simon McBurney, Timothy Spall
- Director: Scott Cooper
The Pale Blue Eye chronicles the fictional journey of Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) who is recruited by the US Military Academy at West Point to investigate the death of one of their cadets whose body was found hanging from a tree. As Landor begins his investigation, he finds unlikely assistance in another cadet who has a knack for puzzle-solving and colorful poetic imagination. This cadet is none other than Edgar Alan Poe (Harry Melling). As the two set about to uncover the mystery, they realize that the case is a lot more complicated than what meets the eye. The rest of the film is about how the two find the killer and uncover a mystery that is not what most audiences will expect.
The Pale Blue Eye unfolds in the backdrop of a frigid winter with the atmosphere remaining gloomy throughout the tale. Even some of the lighter moments of the film are overrun by the gloomy atmosphere and evident discomfort and dread on the faces of each of the characters in the narrative. This not only adds an inherent melancholic and dark quality to the overall narrative but also makes the mystery a lot more serious and cerebral. Right from the beginning of the film, the audience is made to believe that something rotten is at play at the academy, and in the end, it is revealed that something rotten indeed was at play at the academy. There was not one but atleast two perpetrators and both had their own reasons for the killing. The reasons for the killing, however, were totally different making one of the perpetrator’s actions justifiable while that of the other monstrous. It was possibly the first time for me to experience such conflict in the same action from two different individuals on the same victim.
The story of the film is fascinating and captivating even though it takes time to build up. The dialogues are prolonged and sometimes they feel a little too dragged but the intriguing performances and the eerie atmosphere are so proficiently in place that most of these dialogues will most definitely unsettle you. The power of the film lies as much in the mystery and the unexpected ending as it does in its characters and their personal stories and drama that they bring forth in the narrative with their respective performances. Every character in the film is hiding something. Notably, it is in what they are hiding that remains the key to unlocking the mystery of the film. The director gives us enough clues to understand these aspects of the story and it is up to the audience to be mindful enough to discover and understand these subtle hints.
The Pale Blue Eye is a far better film in its subsequent viewings. This isn’t the case for most mystery/thrillers but it is the case for this film as once you have understood the story and the various character motivations, you appreciate their performances a lot better and understand why they are behaving in a certain manner in particular scenes. This not only elevates their respective performances but also enhances the feel and the power of the drama that immediately catapults a few scenes to a much higher level.
Christian Bale is fantastic as Augustus Landor. His honesty and dedication to every character that plays are unmissable. His character here is dealing with a personal tragedy all the way through the investigation and we see his character hallucinating or dreaming multiple times throughout the film. This makes us question his judgment and sanity at many junctures even though he seems like the most composed and calculative individual out there. It isn’t easy to replicate grief but Bale is someone who knows how best to portray grief subtly and he does so here with utmost efficiency. At the same time, his version of a calculative, intelligent, and all-seeing detective is also no less potent and he always puts his best foot forward.
Harry Melling has the perfect face to resemble and portray Edgar Alan Poe to a certain extent. He brings Poe’s trademark madness to the character which immediately makes it likable and impressionable. There is a sense of craziness about him that is only complemented by an unusual sense of calm that he brings to certain sequences where he is at one with either himself or some other character. The last 10 minutes of the film where there is a prolonged dialogue between Bale and Melling are some of the most rewarding minutes of the film. A lot of that is due to how he emotes and speaks in these sequences and how the two characters were built up to that moment.
I was enthralled by the cinematography of the film. From what I could gather, The Director of Photography used a lot of natural light and tried to create compositions that would not only be beautiful to look at but also give the audience the exact feeling of being at a particular moment in the film in terms of realism, mood, and atmosphere. The cinematography of the film was so beautiful that I felt that this should have been a theatrical release. The frames would have just popped out of the screen and had a lot more impact on the large screen. The editing complements the temperamental mood and execution of the film and might feel a little lethargic in portions for some. I, however, felt that the pace of the narrative was consciously kept slow to enable the audiences to enjoy all the beauty in the visuals and to digest the potent and sometimes, overwhelming drama and thematic elements that are an integral part of the story and the storytelling.
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The Pale Blue Eye is not a film for everyone. Its mystery is not all that original. The investigation is not peppered with too many twists and turns until the final punch is delivered. What is original here are the human emotions and the various states of mind that the characters are shown inhabiting and the implications these states bring to their respective predicaments and the story as a whole. If you are able to connect with the respective characters and their underlying turmoil, this film will quickly envelop you with its magic. If you are unable to do so, it will be one long and dreadful experience devoid of any joy or vibrancy. I still believe that this film would have fared a lot better with a wide theatrical release. It is the kind of film that is tailor-made for the theatre experience.
Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)
The views expressed in this article are that of the reviewer and do not in any way or form reflect EastMojo’s position.
Also read | Does ‘HIT- The Second Case’ has enough mystery to merit a view or two?
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