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The Raven Review

By Joe Lozito

Poe and Con


It is the final irony of Edgar Allan Poe's life that he died mysteriously, on the streets of Baltimore, penniless, incoherent and muttering to himself. Poe, of course, was a literary giant, a forebearer of the genres of detective fiction and science fiction, among others. In his time, like so many influential artists, he was less than renown and financially strapped. He was not, however, likely to be played in a film by John Cusack. Until now, that is.

"The Raven" adopts the clever conceit that, during Poe's final days, a serial killer chooses to copy the grisly murders from Poe's stories and taunt him into solving them. The ambitious script, by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare (really!), is part "Seven", part "From Hell", and part "Sherlock Holmes", but despite its been-there killed-that derivations, there are enough clever nods to Poe's writing, enough literary inside-winks, and enough fun had with his final days, that it should appease its viewers (though, I'm not sure who its target audience might be).

At the center of the film is Mr. Cusack, who neither looks nor, most likely, sounds like Edgar Allan Poe. The actor simply doesn't fare well in period pieces (with the notable exception of "Hot Tub Time Machine"), and it doesn't help that the film's attention to detail is more "Wild Wild West" than "Downton Abbey". Still, the actor has lost none of his trademark charisma, even in a goatee and perpetually tortured stare.

After an unfortunate opening sequence in a bar which finds Poe demanding a drink for anyone who knows his name, Mr. Cusack, and the film, relax into the role. And when the killings start, and Poe becomes the unwilling accomplice to kindly Detective Fields (a very effective Luke Evans), the film takes off, with Mr. Cusack as its anchor. Call it "Slay Anything..."

What follows is a cycle of murders, clues and close calls, with the heroes repeatedly missing the killer by mere steps. It gets a little old, especially when the identity of the murderer becomes obvious to those paying attention. But where the film, and director James McTeigue ("V for Vendetta"), really fall short is in the need to gruesomely depict the murders themselves. Lest we forget, there was no actual violence shown in "Seven"; it's all left to the imagination. Sadly, perhaps to attract the young, "torture porn" enthusiasts, Mr. McTeigue errs on the side of blood and gore. This is more "Saw" than "Seven". The "Pit and the Pendulum" sequence in particular is so over the top, it feels tacked on to satisfy test audiences. It would have benefited from a director who could have said nevermore.

What did you think?

Movie title The Raven
Release year 2012
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary Part "Seven", part "From Hell", part "Sherlock Holmes", but despite its contrivances there are enough clever nods in the script to keep it interesting.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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