“The Raven” is nothing to crow about, but it’s not a turkey either. Enough bird puns for you? OK, nevermore.
“The Raven” is nothing to crow about, but it’s not a turkey either.
Enough bird puns for you? OK, nevermore.
“The Raven” is one of those films that takes a famous person, in this case Edgar Allan Poe, and plays around with history to create a drama.
In “Anonymous,” William Shakespeare is portrayed as a charlatan, not a genius playwright. In the upcoming film “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Killer,” one can assume Honest Abe has raised the stakes, so to speak, on his domestic policies.
In “Raven,” Poe (John Cusack) is transformed into a detective, helping the police track down a serial killer who is murdering his victims in grisly ways found in Poe’s tales.
The film opens with the author looking near death and rambling incoherently on a park bench in Baltimore in 1849. It then flashes back to explain how got there. In reality, Poe did disappear for five days before his “mysterious” death.
While Cusack is a talented actor and tries his best to portray Poe as a down-on-his-luck, impoverished drunk, he simply doesn’t look or act dissolute and borderline mad enough to be convincing as the writer of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”
I suppose if you had no idea who Poe was and what a raging alcoholic he was (he was no stranger to opium either), you might be able to buy Poe as an Americanized version of Hercule Poirot.
Anyway, a real detective, Det. Fields (Like Evans) enlists Poe to help him find the serial killer. Lovers of anachronisms will enjoy seeing the term mentioned in a newspaper, more than 100 years before it was actually first used.
Poe aficionados, meanwhile, might get a chuckle watching critic Rufus Griswold (John Warnaby) get sliced and diced by a scythe-like pendulum. In reality, Griswold wrote a scathing obituary on Poe, who was not a Griswold fan. The Boston-born writer might have taken a little guilty pleasure in watching his foe’s gruesome demise.
To up the ante, the serial killer kidnaps Poe’s fiancee Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve) and Poe has to use the clues the killer gives him to save her life. The killer also wants Poe to document his detective work in a newspaper.
Director James McTeigue (“V for Vendetta”) wants to fashion a gothic thriller here in the same vein as “The Silence of The Lambs,” but the film contains few thrills. It’s more gory as the pendulum scene demonstrates.
The screenplay by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare (I assume she’s not related to William), contains its share of anachronisms, too, but greater sins are created by offering the reader few clues about the identity of the killer.
The revelation seems tacked on like at the end of a “Perry Mason” episode where the killer, who typically exists on the periphery, confesses on the stand as the show approaches its end. The “fun” is watching Mason put all the pieces together. Poe eventually puts the pieces together, too. They just don’t all fit — and there’s not as much “fun.”
Page 2 of 2 - At the least the film looks good with Serbia and Hungary substituting for Baltimore and the costumes adding to the atmosphere.
I have to confess I actually liked this film more than I had any right to, as Cusack, even when he’s miscast, seldom delivers a bogus performance. And the script has its witty moments.
The supporting cast is above average, too, with Eve displaying some pluck as the love interest and Brendan Gleeson adding some spark as Emily’s father Charles. Incredibly, he doesn’t think Poe is right for his daughter.
Unfortunately, “The Raven” spends more time talking about Poe’s genius than providing examples of it. Here, he’s simply the besotted and smitten gumshoe. If Poe were writing this film, he would have killed himself off in the first act — and death by a scythe-like pendulum would have been too kind a fate.
“The Raven” opens tomorrow.
“The Raven” (C+)