The Raven (2012)


The notion of centering a Victorian murder mystery and abduction around the works of the grim writings of Edgar Allen Poe is a terrific invention. It's a shame such an elegant idea wasn't given a better batch of actors to work with.

Since the publication of his best known work, "The Raven," the egocentric and frustrated poet Edgar Allen Poe (John Cusack) hasn't been able to make ends meet. He can't seem to settle his tab at the local pub, much less find anyone appreciative of his work among the teeming masses. His editor wants him to turn out something that will sell newspapers, but Poe is more concerned with "art." Little does he know that a murderer has taken a page out of his early works and left two bodies downtown, one of them stuffed up a chimney in a locked room. The similarity of the killings to Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue" story draws the attention of Detective Fields (Luke Evans).

When another crime is committed that also resembles a Poe tale, it becomes apparent that someone is playing with them, and luring Poe into a dangerous game he may not survive. When his beautiful secret fiancée Emily (Alice Eve) is taken from him, they have only a few days to follow the trail of bloody clues to find her... before it's too late.

The critics panned this film upon its release and unfortunately it's not hard to see why. The idea is ingenious but the way it plays out isn't. Everything should work but doesn't... the lovely costumes, the terrific supporting cast (made up of well-known British talent), the thunderous score, and a tight script full of humor and morbidity. It draws upon many of Poe's better and lesser known works but isn't entirely solid on its conclusions; the revelation of the murderer's identity isn't explored enough to make sense of it (why do it?) although the film does get vengeance in the end. It felt like a missed opportunity, in part because the main leads have no workable chemistry together -- neither Fields and Poe, nor Poe and Emily have any energy on screen, and three lackluster performances put together doesn't help the movie reach its conclusion.

Cusack is terrible here; he looks the part but approaches the material without the sense of morbid humor and energy it requires. Eve sounds as if she's memorized her lines, never varying her tone or bringing much likability to Emily. It's a shame, because there are elements in the script that could have been worked with, to flesh out these characters... like Poe's pet raccoon, or the farce he and Emily undertake in front of her gun-toting father. Everyone takes the production much more seriously than they ought, and it's a shame.

Sexual Content:
Implications of intimacy before marriage (kissing, mild innuendo), cleavage.
One f-word, several GD/abuses of Christ's name.
Gruesome corpses are found (with slit throats, severed hands, cut out tongues, etc); a man is graphically sliced in half (blood spurts, he screams, until severed); a man's throat is cut open and he suffocates gurgling blood.
Drinking. We see a dead cat being eaten by ravens. Poe cuts open a human heart.

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