The Pale Blue Eye ⭐⭐⭐

While he might be best known for causing grief for his spell-casting cousin, Harry Melling is gradually becoming a familiar face in the world of cinema. Since starring in Harry Potter as a child, he’s adopted the character actor role with an absolute passion, and his latest venture The Pale Blue Eye lets him dive a little deeper still. Also, it’s got that guy out of Batman in it – what’s not to like?

Starring Melling alongside (yes you guessed it) Christian Bale, The Pale Blue Eye follows detective Augustus Landor. The world-weary detective, played by Bale, is called to West Point Military Academy in New York to investigate the grisly death of one of the cadets. There, he teams up with the peculiar but very likeable young cadet/poet Edgar Allen Poe (strange I know) played by Melling, who can gather information on the inside.

As you can expect from a whodunnit, all is not as it seems. Once the story progresses, suspicions shift and even Poe himself is inculpated as Landor attempts to make sense of the clues around him. It’s got everything from a scarily realistic corpse dissection to satanic worship and a couple of juicy twists and turns.

Now, the first thing I should make clear before I assess Scott Cooper’s latest piece of cinema is that murder mysteries are pretty far down on my list of preferred genres; probably just above musicals and slightly below rom-coms. That said, The Pale Blue Eye ticked a lot of my boxes, including the most important one of all: maintaining my interest for a full two hours – no mean feat.

The plot has enough twists that you’re guessing right up until the curtain call. Its setting also provides a unique take on the classic detective tale, with Landor interrogating young cadets throughout the military base while navigating difficult officers pushing him to get the job done as quickly as possible. I’ve endured plenty of murder mysteries set in mansions, on boats, or in trains, but I’ve never seen one in a setting quite like this.

Bale is obviously faultless in his role as the battered detective, a man performing his duties with precision while evidently harboring a deeper secret under the surface. In fact, I can’t help thinking that a film like this is child’s play for the 48-year-old star: “What? I don’t have to lose 40 pounds? I’m in.” Try harder Christian.

Yes, the Batman guy is great. We all know it. Blah blah blah. It’s Melling that really deserves some praise here. He’s developing a lovely habit of making complex character roles completely his own. Whether it’s playing a limbless actor in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs or a twisted preacher in The Devil All the Time, Melling always performs like its the last film he will ever get to make. It’s definitely about time we stop associating him with Harry Potter and start giving him the kudos he deserves – and that probably goes for me too.

Although Poe doesn’t quite have the sinister edge of a murderous preacher, or the melancholy air of an abandoned quadriplegic, Melling once again ensures you’re hooked on his every word in The Pale Blue Eye. The London-born star does all this while maintaining a Southern drawl which – according to my extensive research – isn’t half bad.

If you’re looking for something to keep you engrossed for a night then The Pale Blue Eye has the plot and the acting talent to do just that. It would be difficult for any murder mystery to rank too high on my list, but Cooper has certainly made a worthy effort.

Three stars.

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