Christian Bale Teams Up With Edgar Allan Poe To Solve A Mystery

The friendship that develops between the detective and the poet is one of the more enjoyable elements of “The Pale Blue Eye.” Rather than begrudge or grumble about his new partner, Augustus takes a shine to Poe, and the two of them play off each other exceedingly well. Indeed, Bale and Melling work so well here that I wish they would make another Augustus/Poe mystery together — one that actually succeeds where this one fails.

The mystery is never as enticing as it should be. In fact, it’s the least interesting thing about the film. Cooper is far more interested in little character moments, like when Poe woos the doctor’s daughter (Lucy Boynton), with the two of them going on a date (of sorts) in a snowy graveyard. At the same time, certain characters get the shaft. Charlotte Gainsbourg is utterly wasted as a local who falls into a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it tryst with Bale’s character, and Robert Duvall feels underused as an expert on the occult. You get the sense that some of his scenes ended up on the cutting room floor, because Augustus introduces Duvall’s character as the “strangest man he’s ever met,” and yet when we meet Duvall’s character he’s perfectly normal. 

As frustrating as all of this is, Bale and Melling keep things interesting. Bale is particularly good at playing the inner turmoil of his character, and Melling absolutely nails the melancholy lurking beneath Poe’s verbose exterior. When Poe has a tearful conversation with Augustus late in the film it’s downright heartbreaking — we can feel the deep sadness radiating from this troubled, tortured poet. Poe continues to thrill and haunt us to this day, and Melling manages to reach back through time and find the human being lurking beneath all the lore. 

Which is why it’s a pity that “The Pale Blue Eye” never quite adds up. There are snapshots of something greater here; hints of a grander mystery, a bigger twist, a better climax. Alas, we can only ponder, weak and weary, over what that better film could have been.

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10

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