Cast: Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack), Detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans), Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve), Captain Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson)
Director: James McTeigue
Theatrical release: 04/27/2012 DVD Date: 10/09/2012
Rating: R Running Time: 110 minutes
Note(s): An original screenplay by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare.
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Review: Sometimes it's easy to identify exactly what it is about a film that makes it work … or not, as the case may be. As it is with The Raven, where almost all of the problems with this thriller can be associated with the astonishingly poorly developed and written screenplay.
One cannot fault the premise of the movie: a fictional recreation of the real-life mystery surrounding the final days of Edgar Allan Poe, who died in 1849 in Baltimore. The storyline has Poe (John Cusack) returning to Baltimore to continue his career as a critic. However, someone in the city has been recreating scenes from Poe's earlier short stories depicting gruesome deaths. Police inspector Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) calls upon Poe to assist him in his investigation, only to discover that Poe himself is actually the target of the culprit, who wants the author to write his most memorable story of his life: that of his own death.
All well and good … and a really promising outline for a thriller. Unfortunately, the screenwriters fail on almost every level. The scenes are so disjointed that they fail to generate any sustained — or even real — suspense. This is due in part to a general lack of plot continuity, problems in logic and timing within the story itself, plot tangents that add little or nothing to the story, and thinly developed, poorly drawn characters. Poe is, for example, overly histrionic — which may be more a director issue than a screenwriter one — and Fields is so remote and detached that his presence is hardly noted. What could have — indeed, should have — been an intelligent literary thriller is actually kind of dumb and unexciting. No one here — not Poe or Fields or even the killer — is particularly clever.
I have to admit I didn't have a clue as to "whodunit" but it wasn't a very satisfying experience when Poe finally confronts the person since the setup to the whole scene lacked foundation.
The Raven has an appropriately atmospheric look to it and (credit to the director) it is paced well. The actors play their parts adequately, if not memorably. No, it is the screenplay that is the real problem here. There is a story to be told about Poe's final days in Baltimore; unfortunately, this is not it.