2012, 110mins, 15
Director: James McTeigue
Writer (s): Ben Livingston, Hannah Shakespeare
Cast includes: John Cusack, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Luke Evans, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Kevin McNally
UK Release Date: 9th March 2012
“The Raven” is a textbook case of “great premise, shame about the movie”. Imagining the mysterious final days of Edgar Allan Poe as a detective story, the film pits the legendary poet against a serial killer inspired by his grislier works, the aim clearly for thrills, spills and a little psychological jousting to dominate the fare. Sadly despite its nifty concept the picture is more or less a dud, scuppered by poor screenwriting and a director more interested in singularly cool shots, as opposed to a satisfying whole. Helmer James McTeigue creates a believable and at times stylish Baltimore setting for his costume thriller to unfold within; unfortunately said story is a hackneyed and rather weakly designed whodunit.
Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) is an alcoholic literary titan, albeit one who has fallen on rough financial times. Failing to get his current writing published, Poe takes some consolation in his romance with Emily (Alice Eve), the two set to be betrothed much to the disgust of her father Captain Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson). However amidst this Poe is approached by Detective Fields (Luke Evans, impressing again in another mediocre film); the law enforcer informing Poe that a series of murders are rocking Baltimore, killings that borrow shamelessly from Poe’s past works. Banding together, Poe and Fields attempt to identify the psychopath, but not before he makes off with Emily, challenging the great mind to a game in the process. Leaving behind a series of tasteless clues and demanding that Poe chronicle the events, the assailant asks Poe to uncover the mystery, Emily’s life hanging in the balance.
John Cusack appears to be having a blast in “The Raven”, blending his trademark cynicism with a brasher dose of wide-eyed shrieking. The actor is energetic and dependably watchable, although there are times in which the characterization of Poe feels incomplete. Cusack does what he can with a few flighty flashbacks and ominous musings, but the screenplay doesn’t really let Poe’s dark side cut loose to the fullest of extents, robbing “The Raven” of the more tortured tone it would obviously have benefited from. This isn’t a probing examination of a melancholy artist or even a film that favours personal developments beyond the two dimensional; instead McTeigue has stitched together something much more perfunctory and repetitive. “The Raven” is essentially a join the dots mystery that goes on for too long, the film-makers failing to instil the picture with much flair beyond its admittedly promising opening twenty minutes. A hectic introduction to the protagonist and an intriguing double punch of bloody murders get the gothic shenanigans off to a great start, but McTeigue never feels fit to jazz up the formula, repeating himself frustratingly for the best part of two hours.
The film’s secrets feel half-baked and ill thought out, the storytelling execution never matching the ingenuity of the fundamental conceit. The kills are all carried out with a courageous lack of cuts, embracing the nastier side of this business consistently, but by the third or fourth time viewers are treated to a mutilated corpse the chills start to subside. The location and 19th century deigns are skilfully envisioned, the cinematography leaking a deliciously malevolent atmosphere, but these touches only show to highlight McTeigue’s priorities as a director. Content to let the tale hit the most formulaic beats imaginable, the film-maker instead opts to focus on striking imagery, leaving “The Raven” a distinctive looking but substantively hollow experience. Who needs potent character construction or a creative narrative when you can have frames composed of bullet-ridden birds and villains peeking through menacing eye-holes? Not James McTeigue apparently.
“The Raven” lazily stumbles towards its crescendo, mustering some heat in the final confrontation between criminal and anti-hero. Until this juncture it’s a fairly comatose product, with a supporting cast on autopilot. There is buried somewhere within the product a great movie, the sort that a Fincher or Aronofsky might blend into a masterpiece. The reality couldn’t be more distant though, “The Raven” a stew comprised of occasionally tolerable seasoning, but a largely rotten core.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012