Movie Review: The Raven
Seeing the posters, watching the trailer, or simply hearing “John Cusack is Edgar Allan Poe” should give you ample preparation (warning?) about exactly what kind of Poe The Raven is showcasing. And should be enough to say how much attention to poetry the movie gives. Which is to say: ‘little-to-none.’
That, however, is exactly what you want. You do not need a background in American Poetry or Genre & Meaning, or for that matter, who Edgar Allan Poe is or was. You simply need to let yourself go and watch the dark and dreary film unfold.
Because what you see on screen is not exactly Poe, but John Cusack playing dress-up as Poe—a poor, alcoholic, and smug writer (is there any other kind?) that makes scenes in pubs and knows only despair and hard luck. He becomes more compelling as the film unfolds, especially when he gets out of the way his Nicolas Cage-esque entrance, where he raves a lunatic, loud and wild-eyed.
A madman of sorts is using Poe’s words as a means to kill people, replicating some of his finest, darkest deaths. There is no shortage of blood, especially near the beginning of the film in a scene very not too dissimilar from something one might see in the Saw franchise. The tension isn’t as high, and the spouting blood has a certain syrup like quality, but if there was one thing the real Poe wouldn’t roll his eyes at in this representation, it should be the blood and death.
Luke Evans is fantastic as Detective Fields, a worthy foil to Cusack, and the man to find the killer—if he isn’t the killer himself. What starts off as a relationship formed from suspicion and mistrust blossoms into a partnership—dare I say bromance—that seems effortless and genuine. Evans’ brooding stare, bulging muscles, and deep voice certainly make him of interest to the female fans (and more than a few males) who choose seek an alternative to Cusack’s boyish charm; a charm that still comes through despite his wrinkled brow, receding hairline, and crazy goatee.
The Raven lies somewhere between the reboot of Sherlock Holmes (the RDJ variety) and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman; lacking the brains of the former though featuring a strong male relationship, with some whimsy and generous interpretation of history from the latter.
Based around the fact that the last days of Poe’s life are unaccounted for, The Raven is more a cat and mouse story that is actually surprising at times, and even when the pace slows, it often features an interesting back and forth between Evans and Cusack.
A word about Alice Eve, the love interest of Poe. She of course becomes a victim, an act that drives Poe simultaneously mad and lucid, eliciting from him the finest of prose as per the villain’s request. Fair-skinned and blonde, she is not completely helpless. She should be given more to do, but in an early scene with Poe, she proves a worthy partner to the thoughtful poet.
Generously using history, The Raven sets out to meet expectations, as long as you know what Cusack brings to the table: the right amount of charm, fire, and star power, evermore.