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The Independent Critic

STARRING
John Cusack, Alice Eve, Luke Evans, Brendan Gleeson, Kevin McNally
DIRECTED BY
James McTeigue
SCREENPLAY
Hannah Shakespeare, Ben Livingston
MPAA RATING
Rated R
RUNNING TIME
111 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
Rogue Pictures
DVD EXTRAS
Audio Commentary: 1. Director Commentary Text/Photo Galleries: Galleries: 1. Photo Gallery
 "The Raven" Review 
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Have you ever watched a film where it seemed like the filmmaker got stuck at "great idea?"

There's something to be said for the concept of wrapping a Se7en type murder mystery around one of literary history's greatest and most gruesome writers, Edgar Allan Poe. Unfortunately, the concept is the only thing that The Raven has going for it. Before you find yourself rushing off to the multiplex in hopes of seeing the latest and greatest Poe adaptation, you should be well aware that The Raven takes the thinnest of connections and wraps a story around it that spews forth Poe quotes with reckless abandon while serving up a script that Poe himself would likely consider barbaric.

It is true, and a fundamental plot point, that Poe's death has remained a mystery all these years. In The Raven, Poe (John Cusack) is an under-employed and largely unappreciated author whose occasional bits of fame are frequently followed by extended periods of poverty and drunkenness. After a series of grisly killings are realized to have been inspired by Poe's writings, Baltimore field detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) recruits Poe's help in an effort to get inside the mind of the killer. It isn't long before the killer begins taunting Poe himself, a taunting that comes to include the kidnapping and threatened killing of Poe's beloved Emily (Alice Eve). Once Emily has been kidnapped, The Raven becomes your standard-issue crime thriller with Poe racing against the clock to create one final masterpiece that will save Emily's life.

One need only watch the film's trailer or check out the movie poster to realize how logical it was to cast John Cusack as Poe. If this is how Poe sounded in real life, however, it may very well explain his complete and utter lack of popularity as Cusack's take on the author is uneven in tone and cadence. It's as if Cusack can't quite figure out if The Raven is intended as high drama, a simple crime thriller or a tongue-in-cheek period piece. The end result is a performance that feels bland, unsettled and grossly unconvincing.

The rest of the cast isn't much better.

While The Raven never completely collapses, it clearly never becomes the film it is meant to be. It's difficult to tell whether or not there's actually a good film in here somewhere, but director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) has crafted a thriller that isn't thrilling and a period piece that feels stunningly contemporary. Had McTeigue, cast and crew committed to a more Sherlock Holmes approach complete with its wit and irreverence, one gets the sense that The Raven would have become infinitely more watchable. The film is far too self-aware to be taken seriously, yet it's also so incoherent in its intent that you could nearly surmise that a nearly delirious Poe himself had actually written the script.

Nothing about The Raven is simply awful, yet virtually everything about the film is disappointing. In addition to the miscasting of Cusack, Alice Eve is both under-utilized and woefully out of her element as there are only two things noteworthy about her performance.

If I really have to tell you, then you obviously don't know Alice Eve.

Luke Evans oozes Matthew McConaughey style snark as the determined field detective, while even the always dependable Brendan Gleeson manages to come off as not much more than functional here as Colonel Hamilton.

It's not just the performances.

Lucas Vidal's over-synthesized original score is more irritating than mood-setting, while D.P. Danny Ruhlmann's camera work is occasionally impressive but gets bogged down by the complete artificiality of the Baltimore created by Roger Ford's production design. This early 20th century Baltimore feels not too far removed from the Dark Forest created in Mirror Mirror.

In case you're wondering, that's not a compliment.

It's easy to understand, I suppose, why everyone involved signed on for The Raven. Unfortunately, the terrific idea never quite manifests into a genuinely entertaining film and McTeigue and screenwriters Hannah Shakespeare (Weird coincidence, eh?) and Ben Livingston seem content to take an intriguing concept and turn it into a run-of-the-mill crime thriller with cool costumes and occasional fits of Poe's poetry that serve no other purpose than loosely tying together an otherwise nonsensical plot.

Too ludicrous and irrelevant to be offensive, The Raven will likely end up as no more than a footnote in the annals of Poe-inspired cinema having been outshined even by the far more inspired and creative episode of The Simpsons also inspired by "The Raven." Cusack's diehard fans may enjoy aspects of his performance here, while Poe's fans will at least enjoy the challenge of being able to follow along as story after story of Poe's comes to life throughout the film.

For most of us, however, The Raven is absolutely barbaric.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic
    The Official Rating Guideline
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