Film Review: “The Raven”

by Gordon Elgart on April 26, 2012

John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe in THE RAVEN

starring: John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Kevin McNally

screenplay by: Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare

directed by: James McTeigue

MPAA: Rated R for bloody violence and grisly images

The Raven is a movie unsure of its own identity. Is it a gory murder mystery? A buddy cop movie? A gothic romance? The truth is, this movie tries to be a lot of things. Some of them it does very well, but the things it does poorly are so jarring, I was shaking my head in disbelief at times. And was Edgar Allan Poe really like this? I hope not.

The basic plot is that someone has started killing people in ways that are taken from Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, down to the excruciating details. So the brilliant detective played by Luke Evans questions Poe about the murder, and eventually has to start working with him. At first they don’t like each other, but then they have to learn to work together, and ya da ya da.

The plot is your basic way-too-smart serial killer plot, in which our main character’s every move is plotted out in advance by the evil mastermind. He knows which clues he’ll follow in what order. He knows which people will be in which places before they do. He’s a brilliant athlete who’s nimble of foot. He’s utterly unrealistic. But he’s really the only character who didn’t annoy me.

John Cusack’s Poe is so obnoxious in the first act, especially in the “I can’t pay my bar tab but let me drink” scene that is basically a giant flashing light that says BAD MOVIE, that I was ready to tune out. But then there’s a romance with Alice Eve, with whom he shares less chemistry than a Chemcraft set. And our heroic cop Luke Evans is unnecessarily cocky, and is supposedly so wise. More than once, Poe expresses doubt about whether someone is still alive, and Evans answers, “I KNOW she is.” He just KNOWS things. It’s lazy screenwriting, and it made me wince.

The movie is an extended reference to the life of Edgar Allan Poe, but since the vast majority of the viewing audience thinks “quoth the raven” is followed by “eat my shorts,” it’s got a lot of explaining to do. To its benefit, it never really does, so if you’re a Poe expert (I’m not), you’re going to beat our characters to the punch in figuring out a lot of its mysteries. And the conclusion of the film refers to an important aspect of Poe’s life that acts as an easter egg for Poe fans; to everyone else, it’s just an ending to a movie.

If you can tune out the paper-thin characters, the lazy script, and the over-the-top bad acting (John Cusack really should have decided if Poe had a British accent or not before he filmed the movie), you’ll probably like The Raven. It’s cat-and-mouse plot is cleverly conceived, James McTeigue knows how to create eerie suspense, and it does have honest-to-goodness twists and turns. But if you’re looking for an honest portrayal of Edgar Allan Poe, this movie isn’t going to do it. It’s more “eat my shorts” than “nevermore.”

The Raven opens nationwide today.

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Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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