Life & Culture

The Pale Blue Eye film review: A military mystery

Christian Bale stars as a detective hunting down in a serial killer at an 1830s US army training academy in a film that deserves extra marks for originality.


The Pale Blue Eye

The Pale Blue Eye
Cert: 15 | ★★★✩✩

Multi-award winning British actor Christian Bale heads a stellar international cast in this intriguing mystery thriller from Crazy Heart and Hostiles director Scott Cooper.

Adapted by Cooper from the 2003 novel of the same name by American novelist Louis Bayard, The Pale Blue Eye also features turns from Gillian Anderson, Harry Melling, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Timothy Spall and Toby Jones.

The setting is Point Military Academy, 1830. Early one winter morning, a cadet is found dead by hanging. But soon after the body arrives at the morgue, it is discovered that the victim’s heart has been painstakingly removed from his chest.

Fearing that a sadistic serial killer might be on the loose after more cadets turn up dead, the academy head (Spall) turns to taciturn local detective Augustus Landor (Bale) in the hope he might be able to solve the mystery.

Faced by a wall of silence from well-to-do West Point attendees, Landor enlists the help of an eccentric cadet — a young man by the name of Edgar Allan Poe (played to perfection by Melling).

Cooper presents an unfussy, yet slightly uneven thriller that often feels a little off-kilter. He riffs on earlier work such as Hostiles, his brilliantly understated Western from 2017, as he delivers a rather engaging adaptation of Bayard’s intriguing story.

Mixing subtle horror imagery with classic detective tropes, The Pale Blue Eye feels both fresh and reminiscent of the golden age of the Western genre, even though it is ultimately let down by a clumsily delivered denouement.

If you put aside the frankly risible big reveal, the film still manages to be smarter and more original than most of the countless B movies produced by Hollywood right now.

Capitalising on Bale’s usual dour delivery and Melling’s penchant for extraordinarily accented performances, Cooper has delivered a film that definitely deserves extra marks for originality.

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