At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Pale Blue Eye “2022”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Pale Blue Eye “2022”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Mystery Thriller/Stars: Christian Bale, Harry Melling, Gillian Anderson, Lucy Boynton, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Toby Jones, Harry Lawtey, Simon McBurney, Timothy Spall, Robert Duvall, Hadley Robinson, Joey Brooks, Brennan Keel Cook, Gideon Glick, Fred Hechinger, Matt Heim, Steven Maier, Charlie Tahan/Runtime: 130 minutes

If there is one joy that I have always had with cinema be it as a reviewer of some skill (the exact amount of which still being one of my life’s little mysteries that I am content to have remain open for debate for the duration of my existence plus or minus a million years) or as a casual movie goer is watching murder mysteries. This is because I love being both entertained whilst also politely prodded by the movie in question to keep one eye open so that way I don’t miss out on the potential clue that could prove to be the one to reveal the entire picture. At the same time, I should also point out that if there was ever an author who was long held in regard by myself that would be the iconic writer Edgar Allan Poe. Indeed here is a man who, long before Stephen King or Dean Koontz ever put paper to typewriter or computer, was penning works that yes put a jolt of fear in one’s heart, but also immersed their souls in a tidal wave of gloom and melancholy in how it touched on elements that are all universal to the human condition. Elements including loss of love, grief, overwhelming guilt, homicidal rage, madness, and brutal vengeance of the most perverse caliber. Perhaps this is why Poe’s work has always touched a chord with readers and always will so long as these elements remain a part of what defines us as human beings. Oh if only there was a slice of cinema that not only had Poe in it as a character, but also incorporated a lot of what made Poe’s work so terrific. Thankfully, now there is. That being the slice of cinema I am reviewing for you today in the form of the Gothic murder mystery adaptation The Pale Blue Eye. Indeed here is a slice of cinema that manages to wonderfully operate as a showcase for the spooky doom and gloom prevalent to Poe, but then manages to incorporate both the ever-tightening suspense present in a mystery whilst also providing us with wonderfully on-point work from both behind and in front of the camera respectively. Yes, this slice of cinema may be flawed in certain aspects, but by and large this is still one chilly Gothic mystery affair for the patient adult movie lover that is definitely worth a watch on the coldest and darkest night possible.

The plot is as follows: An adaptation of the novel by Louis Bayard and taking us all the way back in time to the long-ago year of 1830, The Pale Blue Eye gets its riveting yarn underway by introducing us to a more than slightly weary of the world man by the name of Augustus Landor. A man who, among other noteworthy attributes, is a retired yet highly skilled former member of the group of individuals known as law enforcement that also is a widower and whose daughter ran away a few years prior to the start of our tale. It is perhaps for the former reason though that we find he is summoned by no less an entity than the U.S. Military to investigate a mysterious occurrence at the less than three decades old at the time Military Academy at West Point. It appears dear reader that a cadet by the name of Leroy Fry has been found hanging from a tree. Yet whilst this in and out of itself would normally look like a case for suicide and thus not exactly a cause to raise such a serious alarm there is one more caveat to his death that I guess I should mention. Namely that the young man’s heart was also removed from his body while it lay in wait to be examined for an autopsy. Mystified we see that Landor decides to look into the matter only to find himself stonewalled by almost none of the victim’s fellow cadets wishing to speak with him let alone assist in the investigation into his death. I say almost because there is one who not only is willing to, but who also has a very unusual interest in the whole affair. That cadet incidentally being a young man by the name of none other than Edgar Allan Poe (yes as in THE Edgar Allan Poe who would eventually give the world The Raven, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Cask of Amontillado, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Pit and the Pendulum, Annabel Lee, and other iconic entries in the realm of Gothic Horror fiction). Thus, it is up to this genuinely odd yet also quite effective pair to not only figure out who is behind these dastardly acts and why they are choosing to engage in them in the first place, but also to thwart them before any more cadets and their lives are placed in the most truly dire straits imaginable……

Now right off the bat, I am just going to point out that, in terms of the work being done behind the camera, this slice of cinema is pretty dang good. Perhaps the best thing that the team behind the camera does though before anything else is that they all really do make this slice of cinema give off the vibe of being less a grisly murder mystery and more in the vein of a story that Poe himself might have conjured up come to life. As a result, don’t expect this story to be one that is happy at any point and also is very much tinged with more than a healthy dose of melancholy as well as woe oh woe to spare. This starts best I think with the work done at the helm by Scott Cooper in his third collaboration with Bale following 2013’s Out of the Furnace and 2017’s Hostiles respectively. Indeed, Cooper does a more than capable job of not only continuing his run of making slices of cinema that are bleak and grim whilst also telling us something about the negatives that are very much a key element of the human condition, but here he also dabbles (like in 2021’s highly underrated Antlers) with the otherworldly in certain aspects that are very much integral to the plot. Along with that though, Cooper excels at ensuring this slice of cinema is one that operates at a pace that might seem too slow for its own good, but trust me when I say that there is a method to this madness that will reward those of you who are willing to go along with it. It’s also worth pointing out that reinforcing the work done here by Cooper at the helm is the work done by the immensely talented cinematography and photography departments. Indeed, not only do both of these departments do a wonderful job of capturing the desolate, frosty, and downright melancholic landscape the characters find themselves literally surrounded by seemingly at all times, but they also do a great job at making even the interiors look just as haunting as the exteriors courtesy of lots of gorgeous yellow candlelight and ominous shadows present in nearly every room. Suffice it to say that these two departments, more than any other, are downright instrumental to setting the mood for this slice of cinema and in my opinion they do so marvelously. Thus, yes there might be a few issues with this film in certain areas, but otherwise the work done by the various departments behind the camera is incredibly on-point.

Of course, there is one other big component to this slice of cinema working on the level that it ultimately is able to do so and that is due to the work done by this film’s truly stacked cast in front of the camera. This starts with, in the lead role of Detective Landor, fairly capable work from acting icon Christian Bale who is highly known for immersing himself in the characters that he plays to give us the best possible performance that he can. Suffice it to say that here is no different as he gives us a man who may be quite enigmatic to say nothing of both battling some demons of his own whilst keeping things close to the vest yet is still a second to none investigator who is determined to get to the truth no matter what. Indeed, Bale has always been one of the more phenomenal performances of his generation and here he gives a performance that is nothing than less than engrossing though with Bale I can hardly call that much of a revelation. As delightful as the work done here by Bale is, it’s nothing compared to the delightfully odd performance provided by Harry Melling in the role of Edgar Allan Poe. Indeed, if all you know this young actor as is the character of Dudley Dursley in a little independent franchise that ran from about 2001-2011 known as Harry Potter then trust me when I say that you are in for quite the surprise with his role in this. Indeed, not only does Melling actually convincingly look like a young Edgar Allan Poe, but he also brings a fantastic quirkiness and eccentric intelligence to the role that I think fits fairly well with what literary scholars and historians have learned about the kind of man Poe was while he was alive. Suffice it to say that it is quite the revelatory turn and one that I hope not only leads to further opportunities for Melling in the future, but also gives him the chance to play Poe in an actual biopic of the man. Praise should also be provided here to the work done by fantastic character actor Toby Jones in the role of the mysterious doctor at West Point Daniel Marquis. Indeed Jones has always been terrific in everything he appears in and here is no different as he gives us a character who presents himself as a skilled professional yet there’s also something just a tad bit….off about him that immediately makes him suspicious. Of what I can’t and won’t say, but what I can and will say is that it’s another great performance from Jones that doesn’t go exactly where you think it will. I also like the work done here by both Gillian Anderson and Lucy Boynton as the good doctor’s wife and daughter Julia and Lea respectively. Indeed, they might not be given a whole lot to work with that I really can go into here for fear of spoilers, but what I can say is that despite both operating as more or less archetypes in certain ways, both of these actresses still manage to do a fairly good job with the material that they were given. Suffice it to say that when you also factor in wonderful work in co-starring roles from such screen icons as Robert Duvall, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Timothy Spall (though his role could easily have been played just as well by Tom Wilkinson), and Simon McBurney to name but a few examples I think it can easily be said that this is one cast that is not only fairly well-suited to their respective roles, but also does a great job in bringing them to life as well.

All in all is The Pale Blue Eye a perfect slice of cinema? Honestly no. I can definitely say that with absolute certainty. At the same time though, is this one that could be classified as bad? Not even close. Rather, I would like to think of it as flawed yet still quite engaging. With that in mind though, you should know that this slice of cinema is one that is very much meant to be a slow burn kind of movie so if patience really isn’t your kind of thing when it comes to what movies you watch then I would definitely start applying your time to something else that fits your particular cinematic sensibilities. If on the other hand you are someone who is ok with a slow-burn film that, in both spirit and tone, feels less like a murder mystery and more like something the real-life Edgar Allan Poe actually would have written….then you’re more likely to be in the right place. No, it’s not as emotionally resonating as some of you might like it to be, but the work done behind the camera is certainly more than capable and the work done in front of the camera is also fairly well done thanks to the collection of talent that has been assembled to portray the respective characters at the heart (pun intended) of this rather unique little mystery. Thus if you are in the mood on a cold and dark winter’s night to turn out the lights and watch a movie that will keep you fairly interested consistently throughout whilst also making you utilize your little grey cells only to then blindside you not once, but twice then definitely investigate this slice of cinema. I promise you that you will find this nightmarishly grim tale of what exactly people will do to cheat things that perhaps weren’t meant to be cheated in this life or any other for that matter to be one that you won’t be saying “nevermore” to any time soon. Make of that what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Pale Blue Eye “2022” a solid 3.5 out of 5.

1 Comment

  1. Ann

    Well, dear writer, by absolute coincidence I watched this very movie for entertainment last evening. I too was impressed with the detail and the atmosphere put forth in the scenes. You are also quite correct in that the virtue of patience is a quality that might keep the vast majority from successfully completing this tale.

Comments are closed