While The Raven is seemingly only titled so because it’s Edgar Allen Poe’s most famous poem, the idea behind the film isn’t a terrible one. Unfortunately, due mostly to a lacking script, the film just isn’t that interesting.
John Cusack is Edgar Allen Poe and he actually plays the part quite well. Although Cusack seems to always to play an incarnation of himself, even when playing an icon like Poe, he always transcends the screen. His presence, and wit, is what ultimately pulls the film out of the gutters and saves it from being a complete train wreck.
Supposedly taking place during the last few mysterious days of Poe’s life (he was found babbling incoherently on a park bench in Baltimore shortly before dying under mysterious circumstances) the film puts Poe into one of his own macabre detective stories. Hailed as the creator of the detective story, it isn’t a bad idea as historical fiction goes. After a series of murders torn from the pages of his most well known stories, like The Pit and the Pendulum, Poe is brought on to the case by Detective Fields (Luke Evans) due to his obvious link with the crimes. It’s not until after his fiancee Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve) is abducted at her father’s masquerade ball, who consequently hates Poe and his interest in his daughter, that the crimes finally become personal for Poe.
A Hollywood story for sure, it’s also not too far fetched from something Poe could have written himself. But he didn’t and what really brings down the film is the writing. It’s not bad writing, per se, just painfully mediocre. What is supposed to be a taught and emotional thriller just comes off as dull. Luke Evans as Detective Fields never really feels like a real person. Of course he’s the detective on the case but why should the audience be watching him instead of Poe? He has no stakes in the story other than his oft repeated “the Mayor wants results this time.” Why? Who knows. Alice Eve as Poe’s beloved Emily is just a cliched damsel in distress with no real personality to speak of. It could be that this is just a case of poor casting, but it feels more like the actors just had nothing to work with.
It’s hard to really pinpoint why this film fails because it is fun in parts. It doesn’t set out to be some sort of Charlie Kaufmanesque mind bending, psychological thriller. It’s meant to be popcorn entertainment, just a piece of fun. But it should still tell a well rounded story with fully realized and interesting characters. And because the characters are so dull one can never fully invest in them enough to feel the suspense of the situations. Fields and Poe move from clue to clue but each clue should reveal something about the characters or deepen the plot in a meaningful way. Instead it’s just a bunch of clues that are meaningless except for finding the next one.
The title should signal that this is just another case of watered down Hollywood dribble, considering that The Raven itself (not even a literal raven) has anything to do with this film. It’s only connection seems to be that it’s the poem that most people link to Poe. What could have been an interesting and fun film ends up not being a mess as much as bland. Unfortunately for the talented Cusack, it’s just another in a string of mediocre fare.
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