In the 2012 film The Raven, someone is mimicking the brutal murders found in Edgar Allen Poe’s stories. A chase to capture the murderer before he strikes again quickly turns it into a game in which Poe (John Cusack) and Detective Fields (Luke Evans) must find and follow clues planted at each crime in order to recover Poe’s love (Alice Eve) before she ends up dead in some equally grisly fashion.
The murders are gruesome and the lighting minimal. I can only speculate that the sequence of murders was of first priority, culled from both the better-known stories, because the film plays a bit loose with the biographical. I speak mainly to the characterization of Poe and the love story necessary to create the suspense-thriller.
The Raven uses the murders, the gore, but none of the themes: Was this a tale of revenge? no. Of socio-economic disparity, the disintegration of aristocracy, or the encroachment of the industrial on nature? no. Madness? likely, but nothing that points to Poe. No, the murders are merely inspired; but to any noble purpose, villain? The Raven does not even translate the anticipation Poe builds in his work. Neither is the film all that reminiscent of his Detective novels (a genre he is credited as well).
There are conversations surrounding that eternal question of where do geniuses like Poe find inspiration, is it from reality, sheer imagination, desperation, suffering, madness? But those moments are buried beneath the greater interest in what motivations does the killer harbor rather than those of the filmmaker. So we wait to see what the villain has to say for himself—whomever he may be. And is it satisfying…only if you find the social commentary on voyeurism titillating.
Part of my problem with the film is that Poe is depicted as more dime-store novel than literary, a genius in his own eyes and morbidly entertaining in everyone else’s. His reviews of fellow authors and works were not all that desirable let alone taken seriously unless it sparks a feud to fuel newspaper sales. It was as if Poe was someone who was/is taken seriously long after he was gone. None of which is completely true. But then, the film does seem to take the perspective of “the masses,” indicting their rough tastes, and perhaps media’s own encouragement of it—concerned more with money than art. I just find it odd that the film serves only to reinforce the notion it seems to want to rile against. It merely creates a spectacle, and a poor quality imitation of one at that.
The director James McTeigue has a pretty good filmography as director and assistant director, but he gets lost in the awful script and poor lighting. Seriously, what was up with the lanterns? [note: we watched it on Blu-ray.] The blood and the effects were good; sound, blocking and the composition of shots as well. While I value the magic of cinema, it was in parsing where the film went wrong that McTeigue comes out more glowing despite the sense of distaste I have for the film in general. But then I return to the fact that he is the Director. And as A.O. Scott notes, this is not Se7en (1995).
The actors are good, as we had hoped upon seeing them cast in the film. Luke Evans as Detective Fields and Alice Eve as Emily Hamilton shone the brightest, but neither do I know them well enough to have expectation. John Cusack did what he could as Poe. I have to agree with Roger Ebert here,
When I heard that John Cusack had been cast for this film, it sounded like good news: I could imagine him as Poe, tortured and brilliant, lashing out at a cruel world. But that isn’t the historical Poe the movie has in mind. It is a melodramatic Poe, calling for the gifts of Nicolas Cage.
The writing was bad and the overall effect of the premise is b-movie material; The Raven just had the better budget. And the most heart-stopping moment of this suspense-murder-thriller? The intimation of a sequel. “You’ve heard of Jules Verne?” says the villain to Poe. Oh, please God, no!
Please do not waste your time with The Raven. Not even the desire to guess the story before the Detective can off-set the lack of quality in development and anticipation. Looking for something dark, bloody, and historical? Try From Hell (2001) or even Sleepy Hollow (1999).
The Raven (2012) Directed by James McTeigue; written by Hannah Shakespeare & Ben Livingston; produced by Marc D. Evans, Trevor Macy & Aaron Ryder; cinematography: Danny Ruhlmann; editing: Niven Howie; music by Lucas Vidal; production design: Roger Ford; costumes: Carlo Poggioli; released by Relativity Media. Starring: John Cusack (Edgar Allan Poe), Luke Evans (Detective Emmett Fields), Alice Eve (Emily Hamilton), Brendan Gleeson (Capt. Charles Hamilton), & Kevin R. McNally (Henry Maddox).
Running time: 111 minutes. Rated R for “bloody violence and grisly images”.
Two really good reviews and had I read them first, I probably would have rethought the curiosity that had me selecting this one from the Redbox. Roger Ebert’s review. A.O. Scott’s review for The New York Times in which he ends it much to the same thought I had, “I suspect Poe’s review of it would have been much more savage than mine.”