Scott Cooper’s The Pale Blue Eye is a dark mystery about mood and ingenuity that depicts the Hudson Valley’s barren trees and snowy ridges in winter. The chill in your bones can actually increase the suspense. Cooper clearly knows that mystery atmospheres are crucial to the survival or demise of mysteries. For many of us, Sherlock Holmes was a gateway drug to serious literature. We can all testify that the Victoriana, cobblestones, and gaslight were as important as the cases to our fascination. Here’s a thicker, foggier version of those stories, which was set at West Point in 1830s. It holds its own.
The Pale Blue Eye is based on Louis Bayard’s 2003 novel
The Pale Blue Eye is based on Louis Bayard novel. It follows Augustus Landor, a New York veteran detective who lives alone in the woods and is forced out of retirement to investigate a grisly death at the United States Military Academy. Matthew Helm portrays Leroy Fry, who was found hanging with his heart out. Nobody knows if it was suicide or murder and why. The grimacing, grizzled Landor has an unspoken conflictual relationship with the school. He shows complete disdain towards everyone around him but agrees to the case. The awkward, young cadet Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling) is his aide and tells him that the murderer they are looking for must be a poet. Poe says, “The heart is either a symbol or it is nothing.” To remove a man’s heart, is to trade in symbol. A poet is the best person to do such labor.
Deep, man. Landor is fascinated by Poe and begins to see this odd young man with fondness. Bale is so skilled at portraying standoffish characters, it’s refreshing to see his warmth towards someone else. Landor lost his wife to cancer, and his daughter, according to his story, ran away from his home. He came to these woods in search of happiness and found it. However, he ended up lonely and disillusioned. We begin to understand why Landor has become more accepting of Poe, a poet-cadet who visits Landor’s home and finds books clearly belonging to his daughter. The young man reminds Landor of his daughter. Poe claims that he speaks to his mother in death sometimes. He could benefit from some paternal grounding.
This father-son dynamic is the driving force behind the entire film and sets up key moments in its climax. This, in turn, demands a lot from Melling. You never know where he is going with his amazing Poe. He has a set of piercing eyes that dominate a face otherwise all cheekbones and chin. His confidence is fey and haunted. He oscillates between sadness and grandiosity. This is the hallmark of an honest-to–goodness Romantic. It is hard to believe that he ended up at West Point. In real life, Poe only lasted a few months at West Point. In his speech and mannerisms, you can also see that this man will either make a mark in the world or die in a ditch. As it turned out, both happened.
The Pale Blue Eye is a narrative-based story that offers a few standard developments. A hidden note here, a unnoticed wound here, and an encrypted diary elsewhere. However, we are dealing with a very familiar genre so familiarity is encouraged and allowed. Cooper knows that using cliches with confidence can work. (This man is Crazy Heart. He leans in to them. The doomed character is not just going to cough, but they will have a complete seizure. Exposition is performed with actorly grace. It’s funny to see that the supporting cast includes actors who have performed entire movies. Toby Jones plays the school physician; Timothy Spall plays the head at West Point; Gillian Anderson (!) Charlotte Gainsbourg (!!) plays the emotionally fragile wife of the doctor. Plays a barmaid. Robert Duvall He plays the role of a professor of occult. Is he the only American on the cast? Possibly.) It is possible.
It’s all quite gripping. Not only because of Bale, Melling, and the heady atmosphere, but also because the crimes being investigated, which are brutal on an existential level, are fascinating. Cooper focuses on the monstrous murders that are enough to seduce the imagination.
The movie faces a difficult task: How to make sense of the horrific crimes and honor their brutality? Amazingly, the film’s final scene is an absolute hoot. It’s completely unexpected and yet cleverly presented through the clever use of information. The Pale Blue Eye is not like many mysteries that are intended to be impossible to solve by the audience (which is a valid approach, remember Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t give us all the clues either). Instead, it shows us everything we need and still manages pull it out from under our feet. The picture’s central relationship with the viewer and its vivid setting are what really make it stand out.