Netflix film “The Pale Blue Eyes”, which was released in last week, is a gloomy mystery which did not exactly satisfy me. While it has some interesting elements to draw my attention for 2 hours, the movie just ponderously trudges along its mystery plot without enough interest or intrigue, and I did not get much satisfaction even when everything in the story was clearly explained and then resolved.
The story, which is mainly set in West Point, New York around 1830, begins with when Augustus Landor (Christian Bale), a retired New York City detective, is suddenly visited by an officer from the US military academy in West Point on one day. One of the cadets in the academy was found dead outside the academy under a rather suspicious circumstance, and this incident was followed by another weird happening. Superintendent Thayer (Timothy Spall) wants everything to be solved and then handled as soon as possible for avoiding more troubles, and that is why he requests some unofficial help from Landor.
Although he is reluctant at first, Landor agrees to investigate the case, and we soon see that there are many questionable things in the case. It turns out that the dead cadet was actually killed by someone, and it is quite possible that the killer is also the person who took out the heart of the dead cadet while the body was kept in the academy doctor’s workplace later. There is considerable possibility that the killer is in the academy, but it is difficult for Landor to know what is really going among the cadets and officers in the academy, so he really needs someone inside for helping his investigation.
Fortunately, Landor soon gets the one right for his investigation. The person is a young cadet named Edgar Allen Poe (Harry Melling), and, though he always draws attention from others due to his quirky personality and awkward attitude, he turns out to be quite useful for Landor in more than one aspect. Besides being pretty good at getting any chance for gathering inside information from other cadets, Poe turns out to be smart enough to be Landor’s unofficial investigation partner, and there is an amusing moment when he cannot help but act like a detective as he tells Landor about what he deduces from a little clue given to him by Landor.
Meanwhile, the situation becomes more complicated due to several more gruesome happenings around the academy. Several incidents of dead livestock which are gruesomely maimed occur, and that is soon followed by another murder case to disturb everyone in the academy. Quite more concerned about the reputation of his academy, the superintendent comes to put more pressure on Landor, but Landor remains unflappable as before, while also continuing to delve into the case step by step along with Poe.
As they get closer to the possible answer to everything in the case, the movie shrouds the screen with a palpably grim atmosphere along with some Gothic touches which will surely take you back to those dark literature works written by Poe. Thanks to cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, the screen is constantly shrouded in a cold and unnerving sense of dread and anxiety, and we are not so surprised to learn later that the case may be involved with some diabolical practice of devil worship.
In the meantime, the screenplay by director/writer/co-producer Scott Cooper, which is based on the novel of the same name by Louis Bayard, focuses on a bit of romance between Poe and a beautiful young woman who happens to be the daughter of the academy doctor. As getting to know her and her family more, Poe comes to have some understandable suspicion, but he cannot help but attracted to her as they recognize a sort of kinship between them as two differently melancholic souls, and there is a little tender moment when he recites a bit of one of his latest poems to her at one point.
In the end, there comes a point where Landor and Poe uncover something dark behind the case, and the movie surely gets more insidious than before, but it comes to fizzle during the overlong finale where it plods a bit too much for explaining everything in the story. Although there are some unexpected plot turns for us, we are not so shocked at all, and the movie eventually arrives at its final scene with a whimper.
At least, the main cast members dutifully fill their roles as much as required. While Christian Bale, who also participated in the production of the film, gives another intense and brooding performance to be added to his career, Harry Melling, who has steadily advanced as a promising character actor since his breakout turn in the Coen Brothers’ “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” (2018), has a number of juicy scenes as embodying Poe’s uncanny melancholy, and he and Bale are also surrounded well by a bunch of notable performers including Timothy Spall, Simon McBurney, Toby Jones, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Lucy Boynton, Gillian Anderson, and Robert Duvall, who is still active despite having his 92nd birthday in last week.
In conclusion, “The Pale Blue Eyes” is not entirely without enjoyable stuffs, but it is relatively less satisfying compared to Cooper’s several better works including “Hostiles” (2017). While it certainly has plenty of mood and details to be appreciated, the mystery inside its story is not particularly compelling in my humble opinion, and you will probably have a better time if you read instead one of those dark short stories written by Poe.