*** (out of 5)
April 27, 2012
John Cusack as EDGAR ALLAN POE
Luke Evans as DETECITVE FIELDS
Alice Eve as EMILY HAMILTON
Brendan Gleeson as CAPTAIN HAMILTON
Kevin McNally as MADDUX
Directed by: James McTeigue
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
It is impossible to be a true fan of horror and not at least have an appreciation for writers like Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. And while I’ve always been a Lovecraft man myself, I have great respect and admiration for the works of Poe.
So when I heard that there was a movie being made with Poe as the protagonist bent on solving a mystery, I was instantly intrigued. And like the rest of the fans out there, I was also quite interested in what John Cusack would do with the role.
As a member of the press, I heard about this project seemingly non-stop for weeks from press releases, starting with the development news then moving on to casting announcement and the start of filming. However, as we got closer to release, aside from the sudden change in release date, I heard less and less.
This is a shame because it seems the studio lost confidence in this film, and it was thrown under the bus of a crowded release date right before the juggernaut of the summer movie season.
Still, I was interested in seeing it. The story follows Poe (Cusack) in his final days as a serial killer has shown up in Baltimore. The killings are unique because they mirror the most gruesome works of Poe’s horror novels, including a grisly reenactment of “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Poe becomes a consultant to the police inspector, but soon turns into the victim when his beloved Emily (Alice Eve) is kidnapped by the killer.
In theory, this is a great idea for a film, and when all is said and done, it’s not bad. However, there are several missteps along the way that cobble any real greatness it set out to achieve. The basics have problems, including slow storytelling and a sometimes rambling plot. The film runs about 20 minutes too long, and the cinematography is so deliberately dark and grimy that I honestly thought the project bulb was failing in my theater.
But the biggest problem this movie has is with John Cusack in the lead role. He doesn’t work in the part strictly because he’s such a likeable guy. I (and probably no one, in fact) has any idea what Poe’s voice was actually like, but Cusack’s warm and fuzzy deliver just doesn’t seem to cut it. Plus, he never manages to appear brooding without slipping into overacting that would make a community theater hack blush.
Miscast with Cusack, which was ironically the hook of the production in the first place, “The Raven” never quite finds its footing. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some solid elements to the film.
Even though it’s a work of fiction, there’s some clever elements that tie in Poe’s greatest work to the film itself. And to a certain degree, it’s entertaining to watch this albeit poorly performed role of a great American writer. Think of the film as a darker, morose “Midnight in Paris”… without the time travel.
Where the film does work is in the detective story, which is far more prevalent than action or horror elements. It’s a cat-and-mouse game that we see all the time on television, only wrapped around the woefully depressing life of Poe.
In this sense, “The Raven” reminds me of the old PBS series “Mystery,” which featured quality gothic mystery stories with a generally darker bent and few huge names in the cast. It’s has a higher production value than “Mystery,” but if you’re expecting about the same, you might be pleased with this film.
This is a fiercely mediocre movie, but it’s not worth completely dismissing. I don’t suggest paying full price, but it’s worth a look at a matinee or on home video.