James McTeigue directs John Cusack in this suspense thriller based on the final days of Edgar Allan Poe. McTeigue’s last films included the action gorefest Ninja Assassin and the controversial Alan Moore adaptation V for Vendetta. The Raven is a slow burn, heavy in character and story… almost too much so. Yeah, I fell asleep… twice, missing about ten minutes of the film. Thanks to a friend who’s job it is to keep me from nodding off (at least that’s what he thinks), I didn’t miss much. As the pace ramped up though, I enjoyed The Raven a lot more in its third act when the story really began to unfold.
When a mother and daughter are found brutally murdered in 19th century Baltimore, Detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) makes a startling discovery: the crime resembles a fictional murder described in gory detail in the local newspaper, part of a collection of stories penned by struggling writer and social pariah Edgar Allan Poe. But even as Poe is questioned by police, another grisly murder occurs, also inspired by a popular Poe story. Realizing a serial killer is on the loose using Poe’s writings as the backdrop for his bloody rampage, Fields enlists the author’s help in stopping the attacks. But when it appears someone close to Poe may become the murderer’s next victim, the stakes become even higher and the inventor of the detective story calls on his own powers of deduction to try to solve the case before it’s too late.
It’s hard not to draw comparisons to the Sherlock Holmes films when watching The Raven, but make no mistake it’s not Sherlock Holmes, not in any way. It’s dark and brooding, and lacks the pacing of the Guy Ritchie films. Poe has always been associated with the macabre and gothic, definitely not action oriented fare, and definitely not laced with subtle comedic elements. Unfortunately to me, The Raven feels like it’s dragging its heels in the first two acts, being heavy on atmosphere and exposition, It is a murder mystery after all. There are some great scenes though, including an incredibly gory death based on The Pit and the Pendulum. So much so, it actually caught me off guard. I guess what it comes down to is personal taste. Some will bask in its dark almost Burtonesque tone, while others might walk away disappointed with its meandering pace.
When it comes to the story, the writers do an exceptional job blending fact with fiction in an attempt to give Poe’s death meaning. Cusack’s performance as Poe is great for what it is, although I think he might have been a little miscast. He still has a lot of that boyish innocence and charm which doesn’t quite suit the character. Cusack does what he can with the role and on some levels it works, I just didn’t completely buy into it like I did Downey Jr’s charismatic Holmes. Aside from that small issue, which some may completely disagree, The Raven is very well cast, including some awesome support players like Luke Evans, Alice Eve, and Brendan Gleeson. The period is also very well represented giving the characters a great playground to exist in, although it did seem sparsely populated when compared to Ritchie’s London in Sherlock Holmes. In the end though, there’s a lot to like about The Raven if you know what you’re getting into.
As I said earlier, at its core, The Raven is a murder mystery. It casts Poe into an investigative role as he helps the police solve the crimes based on his stories. As with most murder mysteries, the pacing is slow as each piece to the puzzle is carefully revealed, allowing the viewer time to put it all together. Don’t get me wrong, The Raven is a well made film, and some may find it more enjoyable than others. For me though, I can only recommend it to fans of this genre. I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more in the comfort of my living room.