Apparently the popular theme this year is to take iconic characters from history and have them play in alternate fictitious adventures.
The Raven takes the dark literary genius, Edgar Allen Poe (John Cusack), and thrusts him into a mysterious game of solving a series of murders based on his own published works.
Taking place in Baltimore in 1849, Poe is an arrogant and bitter writer since his newspaper editor (Kevin McNally) has overlooked his recent scribbles and has ran other articles in their place. While drowning his sorrows in bottles of Brandy, Poe does holster the flask for a bit when in the presence of his true love Emily (Alice Eve), despite her revered father (Brendan Gleeson) doing his very best to extinguish Poe from both their lives. Unfortunately for Emily’s father, the two vastly different personalities are going to have to come together under dire circumstances.
As bodies start to pile up, Detective Fields (Luke Evans) discovers that the methodical and equally elusive killer is mimicking Poe’s fictional stories of elaborate murders. Fields turns to the ornery Poe for help in the investigation which eventually hits close to home for the alcoholic-hazed writer. It turns into a bloody game of chess as Poe must match wits with a calculated killer; who may have a better understanding of Poe’s stories than the author himself.
When factoring in the tone and atmosphere of this 111 minute tale, comparisons to 2001’s From Hell come to mind. Gloomy colors and callous set pieces, coupled with the 19th century costuming and demeanors, create an environment that is kind of cool to dive into. In the end though, the storytelling pattern is virtually the same, and at times subpar, as any other flick that dances with concept of the killer “communicating” with his pursuers.
Cusack has hit-n-miss moments with his depiction as the unorthodox writer. This occurs due to the script forcing character relationships together, which directly throws off the flow and persona established in the opening act. Although Cusack should be stealing the show, Luke Evans becomes the most engaging character that garners the attention. He commands every scene as the confident detective and is a nice compliment to Cusack in a handful of on-screen chats. But when they become buddy-buddy, the story loses a dynamic that it just couldn’t afford to. Everything else (storytelling, acting, mechanics) is just going through the motions and the final reveal makes the journey seem bland and uninventive.
By the way, the versatile Alice Eve, who is just a warm body here, unleashes one hell of a terrifying scream. Yeah, that’s it.
Overall, The Raven is draped with symbolic imagery and atmosphere but isn’t creative enough in developing an engaging tale all the way through. The second-half of the film feels amateur even with an assortment of talent both in front and behind the gothic lens. Aside from Luke Evans, two words can sum up the execution of this: A misread.
The Raven is rated R and opens in the Tampa Bay market on Friday.