At first glance, the premise for The Raven might seem like an odd Hollywood match: comedy actor John Cusack (Better Off Dead), portrays the soon-to-be-disposed Edgar Allan Poe, whose stories have become the basis for a serial killer's murder spree. Add to this that history tells us quite a different story about Poe: he never worked with the Baltimore Police, his stories never became the basis for a psychotic mind's perverted practice, and the film's telling of his death is flat-out inaccurate. So, how does this mish-mash of historical inaccuracy play out for audiences? The answer is, wonderfully: The Raven is a smart, well-acted thriller that ushers us into the summer movie season with a bang.
Cusack shines as the melancholy author who, when the film starts, is oft-inebriated and can barely pay off his bar tab before being summarily dismissed onto the street. His recent release of the poem Raven has netted him fame but not fortune, and he struggles to re-discover his muse among 'fortitude' shots at the local newspaper. Meanwhile, a serial killer begins to act out scenes from Poe's novels including Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Pit and the Pendulum with gruesome accuracy. When news of the murders reach police, Poe is first branded as a suspect by Detective Fields (Luke Evans, Immortals), leading Poe to quip, "Is imagination now a felony?!" Brilliant lines like these are sprinkled throughout the story, and both Cusack and Evans execute them flawlessly. But when Poe's finance Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve, She's Out of My League) is kidnapped by the killer, our two heroes join forces to rescue her, all while learning of new murders which Poe is forced to recant in the morning paper to keep Hamilton alive. Tension starts early in Raven and builds throughout, letting us up for air only when it decides we've had enough. This rollercoaster is a fun ride, complete with foggy scenes, plenty of dark corners for mischief to occur, and grizzly deaths to witness. The well-written script by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare is filled with 19th Century American English, which lends credibility to the film that's appreciated. While it's strange to see this sort of alternate history, it's a very well done affair that never insults the audience.
Director James McTeigue (Ninja Assassin) keeps our actors moving and the script from losing any of its edge by keeping things tightly focused on the dynamic between Poe and Childs. Cusack exposes the mind of Poe brilliantly, showing us a tortured soul whose dark machinations are only outmatched by his incredible prose. It's these studies which provide important bridges in the story, as our two heroes argue and ruminate through a well-constructed world of murder. Raven sports a good supporting cast, including Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges) and Kevin McNally (Pirates of the Caribbean series), both of whom stay involved just enough to further the story while not getting in the way. The pulsing soundtrack by Lucas Vidal (The Cold Light of Day) perfectly fits with McTeigue's brooding environment.
The last days of Edgar Allan Poe are a mystery onto itself. If you're searching for a historical drama that answers these questions, you won't find it here; but, The Raven doesn't pretend to offer that, settling instead for something closer to an enjoyable alternate history thriller that could have happened given slightly different circumstances. The Raven is rated R for violence and sexual situations, and is highly recommended.
Please Leave A Comment-