Tile: The Raven
Director: James McTeigue
Starring: John Cusack, Luke Evans (‘Immortals’), Alice Eve (‘She’s Out of My League’) and Brendan Gleeson (‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1’)
Writers who are often misunderstood and whose work is rarely appreciated during their lifetimes can often create some of the most profound, influential pieces in history. Such is the case with Edgar Allan Poe, whose struggles to find acceptance during his life are chronicled in the new mystery thriller ‘The Raven.’ While many of the events in the film are fictionalized, director James McTeigue gives an intriguing look into how the writer would have reacted if a serial killer admired his work so much that they started basing murders on his poems.
‘The Raven’ follows a young Detective, Emmett Fields (played by Luke Evans), who takes the lead on a brutal killing spree that terrorizes Baltimore in the 1840s. After a mother and daughter are found viciously murdered, Emmet recognizes the details as resembling a fictional killing described in detail in a story in the local newspaper. Emmet decides to reach out to the writer of the poem, social outcast Edgar Allan Poe (portrayed by John Cusack). As Edgar is being questioned by police, another killing inspired by his work is taking place. Emmett decides to have Edgar help the police search for the killer, before he can make every fictional murder described in his poems into a reality.
While Edgar is helping the police, he becomes engaged to Emily (played by Alice Eve), the daughter of a local businessman, Captain Charles Hamilton (portrayed by Brendan Gleeson). Charles is initially opposed to his daughter marrying the socially inept poet. However, he turns to Edgar for help after Emily is kidnapped by the killer, and the two learn to work together so that they can help the police search for Emily.
‘The Raven’s screenwriters, Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare, created an intense murder mystery that mixed true elements of Poe’s real life with fictional elements that created an intriguing tale based on his most well-known works. The scribes smartly infused the story with facts about the poet’s life to give the mystery thriller historical context that will allow viewers to recognize elements of the writer’s work. His poems provide frightening murder scenarios, particularly for his time period, and posed the question of what would really happen if someone decided to carry out murders based on his poems, including ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ and ‘The Pit and the Pendulum.’
Poe was the perfect poet to base a fictional murder mystery on, because he reflected the fears and hopes of everyone who lived during the time he was alive. People were afraid to find their children murdered, or be killed themselves because of their profession and the arguments they had with their rivals. Poe also embodied people’s fears of losing a loved one, as he witnessed his mother and wife die of illness, but he had the determination to continue with his writing. He hoped to reach people with his poems, and find success in doing what he loved.
Cusack was a perfect choice for the role of Poe in ‘The Raven,’ as he was able to capture the poet’s physical movements and looks, as well as his emotions. After reading biographies on, and poems by, Poe before he took on the role, the actor took on the writer’s wittiness and charm. Besides from Poe’s intellectualism, Cusack was also able to showcase his dark side and intensity. He understood his devastating losses, as well as his will to continue living.
Cusack had a believable working relationship with Evans, and the two perfectly balanced their characters off of each other. Emmet was able to provide logic and reason to Edgar’s intensity and emotions, and was always looking to precise police work and science to balance the writer’s reliance on emotions. Emmet also has the confidence to lead the highly publicized investigation into the murders, and didn’t allow Edgar’s emotions over Emily’s kidnapping to overshadow the search for the killer. While Emmet didn’t approve of Edgar’s work, he did value his creativity and his insight into the workings of the killer.
Emily is an intriguing character for her time as well, as she refused to follow the roles many women took on during the 1840s. Eve portrayed her as being independent and always wanting to think on her own, despite her father’s and society’s rules that she marry a worthy man. While she is educated and privileged, she wasn’t afraid to stand up for what she believes in, which is perfectly understandable why Edgar is willing to sacrifice himself to find and save her.
The costumes and scenery McTeigue included in ‘The Raven’ were very detailed and representative of the time, but never overshadowed the characters or the action taking place on the screen. The darker lighting the filmmaker used throughout the course of the movie, for example, hinted at the depressing side of the murders, but still allowed viewers to see the eyes of the actors. The cast effortlessly used their eyes and facial expressions to help showcase their struggles and pain.
‘The Raven’ intriguingly created a fictionalized murder mystery based on Poe’s later life, and set it against the struggles he had to overcome in society and with his own loss. While many people are familiar with at least some of the poet’s work, McTeigue uniquely showcased what could have happened if the murders in his poems actually came true. Cusack memorably showcased what would have happened to Poe if his fictionalized murders did come true, and gave a humanizing aspect to the dark writer.
Written by: Karen Benardello