Netflix's The Pale Blue Eye is the biggest new movie of the week — watch or skip?

Christian Bale as Augustus Landor in The Pale Blue Eye
(Image credit: Scott Garfield/Netflix)

Netflix starts the new year with a big name in a big adaptation. The Pale Blue Eye (arriving Friday, January 6, 2023) finds Christian Bale leading a murder mystery as an 1830's detective, who just so happens to be aided by a young Edgar Allen Poe.

Much more adaptable than the film that dropped last week (White Noise arrived with a suitable amount of doubt and suspicion), The Pale Blue Eye isn't a two-person film, though. Far from it, in fact, Bale and co-star Harry Melling (who some may remember as Dudley Dursley from the Harry Potter films), are aided by an all-star cast.

That cast includes Gillian Anderson (a Netflix alum from Sex Education), musician and actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, MCU vet Toby Jones and even Robert Duvall. 

But none of the above answers the question you're likely wondering. So let's find out if you should watch Netflix's The Pale Blue Eye. If not, well, Netflix mysteries aren't in short supply right now, as there's always Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery — we've seen it twice, and can attest it's one of the best movies on Netflix.

What is The Pale Blue Eye all about?

Winter at the United States Military Academy at West Point finds a series of murders that need solving. Christian Bale stars as Detective Augustus Landor, leading this adaptation of Louis Bayard's novel of the same name. 

Landor arrives with a reputation for getting answers with his intimating nature, and he's here to figure out if a cadet actually hung himself — as he was found that way. The academy believes that's not the case, due to a particularly grim detail about the telltale heart. 

Melling's Poe is a cadet at the academy, and Landor needs his help in scrounging for information among his peers. A book suggesting supernatural foul play is found, and answers don't seem particularly simple.

All with an icy backdrop in upstate New York — and more deaths after the one that brings Landor to the scene.

The Pale Blue Eye reviews: What the critics say

At the time of writing this story, The Pale Blue Eye has amassed a 60% score on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes (opens in new tab). Going through the reviews, that score translates to "there's a good movie here, but it's not perfect.

In terms of what critics liked, Richard Roeper at the Chicago Sun-Times (opens in new tab) praises Bale's performance, writing that "we [the audience] believe every inch of his portrayal. Even when writer-director Cooper’s adaptation of Louis Bayard’s acclaimed novel takes some insanely big dramatic swings and doesn’t always connect, Bale is immersed in his performance — equally powerful when he’s quietly revealing a painful moment from his past or exploding with the earth-shattering rage."

The Guardian (opens in new tab)'s Peter Bradshaw doesn't have a whole lot of criticism for the movie, but he calls The Pale Blue Eye an "entertaining piece of counter-factual noir." And the Associated Press (opens in new tab)' Mark Kennedy writes that "The film has a few odd jumps and seemingly comes to a fiery conclusion — finally some warmth, good God — but it’s a false ending. A much better one awaits, one that’s unexpected and very, very satisfying. Stay to the end — as long as you’re bundled up."

(L to R) Christian Bale as Augustus Landor and Charlotte Gainsbourg as Patsy in The Pale Blue Eye

(Image credit: Scott Garfield/Netflix)

As for the nay-sayers, David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter (opens in new tab) writes that its "storytelling is stilted and uninvolving" before stating that "the limply anticlimactic fiery outcome of the investigation makes it obvious that further revelations are still to come."

Courtney Howard of AV Club (opens in new tab) declared "The unrelentingly bleak material fails to provide more than a straightforward whodunit with a tacked-on reveal relying on frustrating contrivances. We don’t see its biggest twist coming — and, as it turns out, that’s the problem." in her C-graded review.

Should you stream The Pale Blue Eye on Netflix?

How much do you enjoy Christian Bale doing what Christian Bale does best? If you love to see an actor firmly entrenched in a performance, and you're up for a wintry mystery? The Pale Blue Eye definitely seems worth a gander.

What's interesting, though, is how little I've read about the performance of Mr. Melling. The once-Dudley Dursley gets notes here and there that his performance is suitable, but going into The Pale Blue Eye and expecting a lot of Poe sounds like a bad plan.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.