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The Pale Blue Eye–A Second Look

“The boundaries which divide life from death are at best shadowy and vague.  Who shall say where the one ends and where the other begins?” 

Based upon  Louis Bayard’s  novel by the same name, The Pale Blue Eye is a murder mystery thriller that intersects with horror. Opening with  renowned detective Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) being hired by West Point to investigate the hanging of a young cadet, Landor’s duties also include  protecting the reputation of the newly established military academy.  A reformed alcoholic who agonizes over his lost daughter, Landor has no allegiance to military institutions nor to its  cultural values.  He considers the military stultifying for the development of mature, independent-minded adults.

One character, young cadet Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling who played Dudley  Dursley in the Harry Potter franchise), is loosely based upon the author who did  briefly  enlist at West Point in the 1830’s  following the death of his mother.  (Poe had an ignominious period as a student, eventually being court-martialed for insubordination.)

In The Pale Blue Eye, Augustus Landor invites the intellectually curious young Poe to assist in solving what becomes a series of grisly murders in which the heart is excised from each murder victim.  When a cow and a sheep are similarly disembodied with  their hearts carved out, Landor and Poe  suspect satanic cults.  However, the coroner, Dr. Marquis, resists acknowledging that foul play is involved.

A subplot involving Poe and Dr. Marquis’s fragile but beautiful  daughter, Lea,  ramps up the narrative to illustrate Poe’s less affectless nature but then shifts–rather suddenly–to a darker side.  Landor and Poe become less trusting of each other’s objectivity and detective skills as a result.

The two main stories–who is responsible for the grisly murders and do Lea and Edgar Allen Poe develop a romantic connection–intertwine but not seamlessly.  For a two-and-a-half hour movie, the majority of the pacing focuses on solving the grisly murder with abrupt interjections of Lea and the Marquis family.  The more interesting scenes in The Pale Blue Eye are what happens to Landor, his personal demons, and Poe’s unraveling his mentor’s motivations for investigating the West Point murders.

The main thesis of The Pale Blue Eye  was enticing, but the execution fell flat and left this reviewer wanting more focus on Landor and Poe’s relationship. It’s not a complete waste of time though.  The Pale Blue Eye  would have rewarded the audience with more of a bird’s eye view of the eerie moments reminiscent of a Poe mystery with less emphasis on the physical dimensions of murder. A sparing, unflinching  interweaving of Landor’s psychological nature with his  emotional personal journey would have made The Pale Blue Eye stunning .

Availability:  Netflix streaming

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