Famed poet and author Edgar Allan Poe died in 1849 under mysterious and unexplained circumstances, and The Raven
attempts to decipher his death by placing it within the fictional context of a serial killer's murder spree during the last days of Poe's life. Unfortunately, what starts as a unique concept becomes a run-of-the-mill thriller that can't mine the cast's full potential.
In the fall of 1849, notorious poet Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) returns to his hometown of Baltimore, broke, drunk, suffering from writer's block and upset that the heathens around him don't recognize his literary genius. Little does he know that one person is all too familiar with his work. A shadowy figure is killing people around the city, recreating crimes Poe has written about in his stories. Recognizing the allusions, police detective Fields (Luke Evans) draws Poe into the case, which becomes all the more personal to the writer when the culprit kidnaps his fiancee Emily (Alice Eve) and challenges him to a battle of wits, leaving a series of clues that Poe has to decipher to reveal her location before it's too late.
The End Result
John Cusack in 'The Raven'.Photo: Larry Horricks © Amontillado Productions
If The Raven
were set in the present day without a renowned historical figure as the lead, it would be an utterly forgettable and generic thriller. As it is, it's only marginally less generic thanks to the Edgar Allan Poe angle and a strong cast lead by the ever-likable John Cusack, who lends an everyman appeal to even an extraordinary character like Poe. The concept, which blends a hefty dose of fiction with the real-life circumstances surrounding the poet's death, is certainly intriguing, but despite its aim to be a 19th century Seven
or Silence of the Lambs
, it ends up as a shallow, overly drawn-out cat-and-mouse whodunit, with Poe just following a series of clues that don't present any startling twists or frankly even draw him any closer to finding Emily until the very end.
The Raven lacks the visual panache of director James McTeigue's previous efforts V for Vendetta and Ninja Assassin, and given his penchant for dazzling CGI-laden effects, one wonders if he was even the most appropriate choice (The computer-generated bloodletting in this film leads me to believe not.). Despite its faults, though, The Raven's perfunctory mystery is engaging enough to keep you invested in discovering the culprit, and the cast lends a sense of humanity to an otherwise bland script that struggles to outwit an average TV police procedural.
- Acting: B- (The cast does the best it can with the shallow material.)
- Direction: C (McTeigue seems the wrong man for the job and feels hamstrung, only occasionally hinting at his striking visual potential.)
- Script: C- (A bland, straightforward mystery full of inane clues that lead only to the next clue.)
- Gore/Effects: C (A couple of gory scenes; distracting CGI blood.)
- Overall: C (A great concept reduced to little more than a gory, big-budget episode of CSI.)
The Raven is directed by James McTeigue and is rated R by the MPAA for bloody violence and grisly images. Release date: April 27, 2012.