Theatrical Review: THE RAVEN

Still shot of John Cusack in The Raven

James McTeigue burst onto the scene with his feature directorial debut V FOR VENDETTA. His vision of Alan Moore’s dystopian future was befitting the graphic novel’s darkly comic tone, something that certainly owed to its general success among critics and film fans alike. Unfortunately for THE RAVEN, McTeigue blend of mystery and suspense fails to hit the right notes, devolving into cliche mystery territory before we even meet Poe.

In THE RAVEN, we find Poe (John Cusack) drunken, penniless, and surprisingly well-dressed as he attempts to woo the favor of his love’s (Alice Eve) father, Colonel Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson), while simultaneously trying to get published and reclaim the fame he once had with the publication of his famous poem, The Raven. Meanwhile, a series of grisly murders occur, mirroring the stories written by Poe. Sent to investigate is Inspector Emmett Fields, whose literary prowess allows him to identify the killer’s influences, prompting him to seek out Poe and enlist him to help solve the grisly series of murders.

THE RAVEN plays out like all too familiar stories; it’s the inspirational killings of SEVEN slamming head first into the fictional history of FROM HELL, yet lacking any of the suspense or abject gruesomeness those two films contain. Given its status as a “whodunit” styled mystery, one would expect a darker, grittier film; yet McTeigue, who gave us the violent and heavily stylized NINJA ASSASSIN and V FOR VENDETTA, presents the film with a sheen that belies its dark content. Only one scene, involving Poe’s story The Pit and the Pendulum, features anything that can be considered gore, and even then it looks horribly high gloss. Following this, the blood and gore drops significantly, replaced by poorly edited chase scenes that string together clue and after clue as Poe and Co. go traipsing through the foggy Baltimore streets. Such are the follies of high budget thrillers.

Even the performances leave something to be desired. It’s difficult to separate the comedic stylings inherent to Cusack’s work with how you might be tempted to perceive the character of Poe to be. His character is written true to form, with the film detailing his literary spats with William Butler Yeats and Ralph Waldo Emerson, thus serving as comedic fodder and partially attributing to Cusack’s over-the-top performance early on in the film. Some have compared his performance to the crazy antics of Nic Cage, and they're not far from the truth. While the real Poe was indeed a drunk, Cusack’s vivaciousness instills in the character something wholly unbelievable; it may very well be true to life, but it just doesn’t work.

As the film progresses, much of Cusack’s attitude is tempered due to the predicament in which he has found himself, yet his verbosity in even the most blasé of conversations, remains. While this is clearly done to showcase Poe as a master wordsmith, it generally just comes off as laughable; we already know that he’s a brilliant writer, so it doesn’t need to be bogged down by excessive loquaciousness.

This is offset by the initially stoic, then wildly angry Detective Emmett Fields, played by Luke Evans,  who plays the part well despite being hampered by the weak dialogue. This says nothing of Alice Eve, who plays Poe’s love Emily and the inspiration for his poem Annabelle Lee; her performance is stilted and weak, though in her defense she wasn’t given much to work with.

Much like the plot of the film, fact and fiction is melded together to create a picture of Poe that fails to pay the respect to the man that he deserves. Bits and pieces of his life are cobbled together to form an alternate history that, although intriguing, fails to be executed in a way that’s anything but forgettable. The end result is an interminable bore, one that sucks you in with its subject matter before pulling the carpet out from under you and giving you nothing you haven’t seen before.

Grade: C-

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