Everything is in place for the film to be a great success: a strong cast, a captivating story, breathtaking scenery and a beautiful, dark story. However, without demeriting, Scott Cooper struggles to convince completely.
In 19th century America, in 1830 in the State of New York to be precise, a cadet is found hanged and his heart ripped out not far from the famous West Point military academy. The institution’s officials, bogged down in their investigation, call on Augustus Landor, a retired widowed commissioner, played by a tortured Christian Bale, eaten away from the inside by grief. The policeman agrees to come out of his isolation, out of his cabin, to help solve the mystery. Bearded, emaciated and full of anger, Christian Bale is a far cry from his previous roles such as American Psycho or The Dark Kights trilogy.
The impossible mourning
Based on the historical crime novel of the same name by Louis Bayard, The Pale Blue Eye is an intense gothic thriller, well served by the cast. To assist Christian Bale in his investigation, a gifted and solitary cadet named Edgar Allan Poe played by Harry Melling, exceptional in his accuracy and depth. The duo works very well. Both continue to live in a traumatic past. The Pale Blue Eye is also a film about impossible grief, loneliness and revenge as the only way to survive. Edgar Allan Poe has lost his mother but still hears her in his sleep, Commissioner Landor still mourns the death of his wife and is still haunted by the disappearance of his daughter.
The living risk madness when they rub shoulders with the dead. Poe and Landor are in an unequal battle. They must face their inner demons but also the killer who continues to desecrate the bodies in the prestigious military academy, much to the fury and dismay of its leaders. And here we see a twist in both the film’s plot and, more importantly, in the acting. The British actor Harry Melling steals the show from Christian Bale, he is more present, more dense, more inhabited by his role. He is Edgar Allan Poe.
Director Scott Cooper had all the ingredients to make The Pale Blue Eye a great film. Yet he struggles to fully seduce.