[Review] – The Raven

10 May

Title: The Raven
Year: 2012
Director: James McTeigue
Writers: Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare
Starring: John Cusack, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Luke Evans, Kevin McNally
MPAA Rating: R, bloody violence and grisly images
Runtime: 111 min
IMDb Rating: 6.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 21%
Metacritic: 44

I like John Cusack quite a bit. And I like Edgar Allan Poe‘s literature, too. I also liked James McTeigue‘s directorial debut V for Vendetta from 2006 quite a lot. So I should dig the idea of John Cusack playing Poe in a film directed by Mr. McTeigue about how the author and poet pursues a serial killer whose murders are just like those in Poe’s stories, right? Well, not really. Since I heard that The Raven was being developed something about it didn’t quite sit well with me, the fact that they were fictionalizing Poe’s last days and turning him into a detective story just seemed too dumb. Well, now I’ve seen it and I can tell you I was right; this film’s just not good.

It’s no good for a number of reasons. First of all, the acting, even that coming from Mr. Cusack, is just totally off for most of the movie; the script is just seriously flimsy; and the murder mystery at the center of it is just super ridiculous, and you’ll find yourself chuckling at how dumb it all is far more than you’ll find yourself at the edge of your seat, which is what this thriller would like to achieve. Worse still, blasphemous even, is that this is what’s done to the legacy of Edgar Allan Poe, a legacy that should have been left alone in the first place but that’s just hurt so much by the fact that it was used to produce such a crappy piece of entertainment.

I may be (slightly) overreacting about how unworthy our our time this film is, it’s just that it never once embodies the mysteries and literary grandeur of Edgar Allan Poe and, failing to do that, it also doesn’t fully commit to just going all-out and over-the-top, which at least would have made this a campy sort of affair that may have been fun to watch. What we get is just pretty boring and, even worse, doesn’t really make that much sense. If we had been getting a biopic of Poe then Mr. Cusack would have been a good choice; this needed a much crazier and out-there sort of actor.

Because a straight-up biopic, this is not. It’s not even a biopic in the vein of Bruce Robinson‘s The Rum Diary from last year (which I gave a B to). This is something that will no doubt remind some people of a more thriller-y kind of Sherlock Holmes movie in which you have this arrogant kind of misunderstood genius in heavily-stylized Victorian times (though this one’s set in Baltimore) going after a criminal mastermind. Luke Evans plays the young detective that pairs up with Poe, trying to get the author to help him get inside the killer’s mind and stop his gory stories from coming to life. And of course then Poe’s own fiancée, played by Alice Eve in the film’s best performance (not that that’s saying much), then gets kidnapped so our tortured hero gets very personally involved.

I just found myself in awe that this film, with such an actor and director, ended up being as boring as it was. Mr. Cusack just never gets the chance to shine or to really get into Poe as a character and give us the complex and mesmerizing performance I’m sure many of us wanted to see come out of him taking on such an icon. This is Poe during his final days in which alcohol became his companion, and the only thing we get from that is a hugely generic thriller that’s not that thrilling at all? Disappointing, to say the least.

What’s worse is that instead of letting these characters actually be interesting and letting his setting create a really nice atmosphere for a film like this, Mr. McTeigue decides to go really heavy on the special effects in this film and get some truly intensely graphic violence in it. And don’t get me wrong, it looks pretty cool, this is the guy that did V for Vendetta after all, but it totally overshadows the other elements at play in this movie and it doesn’t look right in this Victorian setting.

I just didn’t get what this film was really going for. I thought it started off nice enough because this was Poe and Mr. Cusack seemed to be getting into the over-the-top acting stylings of Nicolas Cage in his performance, which I thought might be good for this film, but then it becomes just a totally generic film and Edgar Allan Poe is diminished to be a totally generic action hero of sorts following dumb clues to get from one set piece to the next. And none of these situations have that much of an impact on us as moviegoers, and by the time the climatic final revelation is sprung on us I doubt anyone will really be caring about these characters for them to get into it.

You should just skip this one. Unless it’s on really, really late at night on cable and you need something to nod off to, or unless someone remakes this with Mr. Cage and makes it a total campfest, which I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking while watching this. It just sucks that this is what was made to honor the legacy of such a legend, and it sucks that it came with a leading performance by an actor who I love, and who certainly seems to be trying here, but who just doesn’t nail it (not that it’s his fault, actually). It sucks that it’s John Cusack because it’s been probably over a decade since he’s given us a truly brilliant performance, and I want another one of those. He’s starring in Lee Daniels‘ next film, and joining him again as Richard Nixon next year in The Butler. So let’s hope we’re not going to be left waiting for that much longer.

Grade: C

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