Title: The Raven
Director: James McTeigue
Cast: John Cusack, Alice Eve, Luke Evans
Edgar Allen Poe’s mysterious last few days are unknown to everyone, which only makes his enigmatic, often controversial figure even more intriguing. Full of contradictions, vitriol and self-praise, he was one of a kind. Poe jumped from horror stories with a philosophical spin to everyday mystery novels that could be enjoyed by critics and audiences alike. He spawned a majority of the genres we take for granted today. The Raven is none of these things. It’s even less: Poe is almost like a caricature, despite John Cusack’s acting prowess, which leads me to believe that James McTeigue is largely to blame. McTeigue hasn’t impressed me since V for Vendetta. It was indeed a really good movie, but the writing has not been solid since then (the Wachowskis were responsible for the screenplay in V for Vendetta). Silly plot line aside, since it doesn’t take itself seriously, The Raven never even touches the bounds of being a fun, entertaining drama. It takes for granted Poe’s sad, melancholy disposition and turns it into a goofy, over-acted piece of undramatic storytelling.
The Raven is as silly as it sounds: Poe’s stories are brought to life by a serial killer. Quite literally. A murderer is reacting his stories, even going so far as to include The Pit and the Pendulum. Somehow it manages to sound completely ridiculous, yet undeniably fun at the same time. It only manages to live up to one of those, and not the ‘fun’ part. Plot holes and messy storytelling aside, Cusack fails to sell the role. In the opening scene, where Poe is in the bar trying to grab a drink, he’s given the opportunity to steal the show and make the scene, but McTeigue sends him into an almost cringe-worthy rant. I don’t even know how this made the final cut. Nevertheless, Poe is summoned by the police force to assist in solving the case–seeing as he has some sort of mental advantage, even though he simply just wrote the stories. Like The Grey earlier this year–which I enjoyed–this film feels more like a made-for-TV movie. The SyFy channel premise gives even more credence to what I’m saying here.
Poe’s character in The Raven isn’t exactly the same Edgar Allen Poe you’d imagine. Instead, he’s more of a Poe-lite. His gloominess is played out as an ‘angsty drama’, and his sense of individualism and character are also missing. In The Raven, he almost comes across as a cartoon character rather than a real person with real problems–it almost makes a joke of the actual person. Why was he developed this way? McTeigue has never been a director skilled with subtlety and this makes it even clearer. Detective Fields (Luke Evans), who is partnered with Poe, plays the same note through the entire movie. He’s the gruff police officer bent on justice, essentially every stereotype imaginable. But what was perhaps most disappointing was the lack of chemistry between Cusack and Alice Eve, who plays Poe’s love interest, Emily Hamilton.
Severely disappointing on every level. You have an incredibly interesting figure in history and reduce him to a few cliches and make him overact to try and compensate. The Raven also slowly loses steam going into the third act and attempts to add on a twist that you could’ve guessed from the beginning. In other thrillers with a ‘gothic’ edge, like Seven, it worked because of the disturbing atmosphere and unrelentingly brutal way in which the story progresses. Here, it feels like someone trying to do the same exact thing but not having the will to go much further. Needless to say, this one is a big miss.