Directed by James McTeigue
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Is it possible to enjoy a film if its basic conceit offends you?
Understand, I have no problem with a book, film, or what-have-you blending real events and people into a fictional story. Some of my favorite stories do just that. But dammit, I ask you – why the hell has Hollywood not given us a proper biopic on one of the most influential writers of all damn time?!
Edgar Allan Poe has been featured from time to time throughout cinema, sure. And he’s been done justice a few times as well. But we’ve had nothing in the way of the lavish, decently budgeted Oscar bait that the man’s real life story deserves.
No. Instead, we get The Raven, a potboiler that combines Poe’s final days with a standard police procedural/genius serial-killing madman tale. The setup is decent enough: just as poor, tormented Poe (Cusack) finds a bit of happiness in his life (in the form of the lovely Emily, portrayed by the equally lovely Eve), a dastardly villain begins to murder people in grand setpieces influenced by Poe’s work. One Detective Fields (Evans), at first believing Poe to be a possible suspect, eventually trusts the writer and pleads for his help to understand the workings of the killer’s mind. And when the fiend sets his sights on Emily, the stakes are driven ever so higher as Poe must use his keen intellect to outwit his murderous fan before he can tear away all that is dear to him.
Okay, maybe the movie’s existence doesn’t exactly offend me. But it certainly had to jump through some hoops for this writer, ever since I glimpsed the film’s poster (featuring Cusack as a gun-toting Poe sporting a Tony Stark goatee). It annoys me, perhaps, as I wish the production had used their considerable resources and onboard talent to portray a straight telling of the great writer’s life.
Still, it is what it is, and for what it is – it’s enjoyable enough. The movie boasts strong acting, is gorgeously lensed, and is directed well enough by James McTeigue, the talented helmer who gave us the superb V for Vendetta, and the utterly forgettable…uh…Ninja somethin’ or other. And while the story does have its holes and occasional head-slappers, it moves at a brisk enough pace and is thrilling enough to keep one interested in its outcome.
It’s worth noting that the always interesting Cusack makes for a great damaged protagonist (if a questionable Poe), and has fun playing with the writer’s eccentricities. There are a few particularly fun sequences for fans of the writer’s life: one featuring a quite broke Poe attempting to outwit an entire bar full of patrons in order to secure a drink, while the other showcases his disdain for some of his contemporaries at the newspaper that employed him as a critic (”LONG-FELLOW!!!). The rest of the cast is great as well, with each actor putting in perfectly solid performances even if their characters are somewhat underwritten (Evans, especially, does the best he can with his blandly-written hero).
And the movie looks just fantastic. Though there is the occasional bit of dodgy CG, the production design and cinematography are top notch, giving us a convincing look at mid-19th century Baltimore while staying suitably evocative, conjuring up the sort of gorgeous gloom usually found in classic Hammer films and Tim Burton flicks.
The script, though…while some of the dialogue is quite lovely (especially some of Poe’s), and the basic story is interesting enough, it seems as though the writers lost faith in their concept about halfway through the film. The villain’s demand, that Poe’s manhunt for him be collaborative in nature, is sadly muddied by the various action setpieces shoehorned in from time to time. In addition, the revelation of the killer’s identity (and his/her motivation) is a complete yawn. For all that is set up throughout the film, the killer could have been anyone in the cast. And the reasoning behind the murderer’s madness is oh-so-contrived, and leads to the most anticlimactic climax I’ve seen in some time.
All the same though, the movie is well made and fun, and is worth a look even to those devoted enough to the writer to find this film’s story an eye-roller.
The Raven gets a nice showing on disc by 20th Century Fox, who has given the film a beautiful, talon-sharp image and a wonderfully detailed DTS-HD Master Audio track. In addition, the supplements are quite nice as well. We get a handful of deleted and extended scenes, an audio commentary by McTeigue and the producers, and five featurettes concerning Poe and the making of the film.
Overall, if the notion of a slick, fairly hollow Hollywood serial killer flick annoys you, then stay far away. But for all of that, the movie does have its merits, and is well worth checking out for those who might enjoy a mindless, incredibly well-made romp featuring one of history’s most fascinating authors.
○ Poetry Reading
○ The Red Mask
○ Emily’s Recital
○ Fields Check on Poe
○ Poe Brings Carl to Field’s Home
○ Doctor Clements and Fields
2 1/2 out of 5
3 out of 5