Pale Blue Eye, The: Third Panel of Star Christian Bale and Director Scott Cooper’s Ethics of Revenge Trilogy

The frequent collaborators, who have enjoyed one of the more distinctive working relationships in Hollywood, meticulously planned their gothic murder mystery so that it will be viewed differently a second time.


In 2012, Scott Cooper called Christian Bale to offer him the starring role in Out of the Furnace, which he wrote specifically for Bale.

Cooper was only a couple years removed from his feature directorial debut, Crazy Heart, which earned Jeff Bridges a long-deserved Best Actor Oscar.

Since Cooper tailor made Crazy Heart just for Bridges, he took the same approach with Bale and Furnace, except Bale politely declined the invitation at first. Bale was still a young father at the time; he was also nearing production on Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups, and he had to promote his final Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises.

Harry Melling, Christian Bale, Lucy Boynton and Scott Cooper attend "The Pale Blue Eye" Los Angeles Premiere at Directors Guild Of America on December 14, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.

Cooper and Out of the Furnace remained at a standstill until Bale changed his mind, leading to an ongoing collaboration and friendship.

“As usual, I was trying to avoid working, but Out of the Furnace was too good to pass up,” Bale recalls. “And obviously, Out of the Furnace was the first of three now. I’ve started calling our work the ‘Ethics of Revenge’ trilogy, which aptly describes all three films in a sense.”

The Pale Blue Eye, Bale and Cooper’s follow-up to 2017’s Hostiles, opens in select theaters on December 23 before its Netflix release on January 6,

It chronicles Bale’s Augustus “Gus” Landor as he investigates a series of murders involving cadets of the West Point Academy circa 1830.

Bale’s grieving detective seeks the assistance of an eccentric young cadet known as Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling).

The gothic whodunnit may be rooted in historical fiction, but Poe truly was a West Point cadet in the early 19th century.

Ethics of Revenge Trilogy

In all three films, the varying degrees of revenge have been a through line, but Cooper didn’t connect the dots until Bale coined their work the “Ethics of Revenge trilogy” on the day of the Pale Blue Eye’s press junket.

“It was Christian who mentioned it to me in terms of what bound our work together. When he said ‘the Ethics of Revenge trilogy’ to me, I thought, ‘My God, you’re right,’ and boy, was he ever,” Cooper explains.

“But it feels like this is a nice trilogy. A couple of other things that I’ve written expressly for Christian don’t quite mine that, but that’s the great thing about having Christian Bale lead your films. You may have an idea on the page of who these characters are, but Christian has so much range that he can take them to places that go well beyond that.”

As Cooper hinted, the duo has many more film ideas on the table, including an L.A. noir, and while they may not know exactly what’s next, they do know that a fourth go-round will happen at some point.

“We’ll keep going. We don’t know what yet, but we’ll keep going,” Bale says. “I’m a sloth. Scott is incredibly prolific. He writes like crazy and he is obsessed with it. I probably take longer reading a script than Scott does writing a script. So he just has to slap me around a little bit to speed things up.”

Cooper’s script was adapted from the 2003 novel of the same name by Louis Bayard.

In addition to Bale, the ensemble cast includes Harry Melling, Gillian Anderson, Lucy Boynton, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Toby Jones, Harry Lawtey, Simon McBurney, Timothy Spall, and Robert Duvall.

Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor and Senator-elect John Fetterman and his wife Gisele are extras in the film. They became friendly with Bale and Cooper in 2013 while they were filming Out of the Furnace in Braddock, Pennsylvania, where Fetterman was mayor. Bale stated, “John’s got this fantastic face, hulking figure… So I said to Scott, ‘We’ve got to have him in the tavern… That’s a face that fits in the 1830s.'”

Christian Bale as Det. Augustus Landor[3]
Harry Melling as Edgar Allan Poe[4]
Gillian Anderson as Julia Marquis
Lucy Boynton as Lea Marquis
Charlotte Gainsbourg as Patsy
Toby Jones as Dr. Daniel Marquis
Harry Lawtey as Artemus Marquis
Simon McBurney as Captain Hitchcock
Timothy Spall as Superintendent Player
Robert Duvall as Jean-Pepe
Hadley Robinson as Mattie
Joey Brooks as Cadet Stoddard
Brennan Keel Cook as Cadet Huntoon
Gideon Glick as Cadet Horatio Cochrane
Fred Hechinger
Matt Heim as Cadet Fry
Steven Maier as Cadet Llewllyn Lee
Charlie Tahan as Loughborough