Starring John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Pam Ferris and Kevin McNally
Directed by James McTeigue
James McTeigue’s The Raven has two interconnecting premises, the first of which is a fictionalized account of Edgar Allan Poe’s (played by John Cusack) still mysterious and controversial death. The real Poe, on his way to New York City, has made a surprise pit stop at Baltimore. Just like the one in the movie, he was found on a park bench in that city, wearing ill-fitting clothes and incoherently mumbling about a man named Reynolds. Theories about his death vary from different diseases and substances that were plentiful during the Antebellum. This movie’s supposed to tell what happened to Poe that led him to his mysterious death. The second premise is that during his stop, a serial killer has victimized members of the city’s population, while also copying plot points in Poe’s stories. Edgar is the prime suspect but he’s helping with the solving of the cases. So it’s also basically like watching libraries worth of Vincent Price and Hammer material within one movie with a 2012 time stamp. The source material and McTeigue’s glossy, ‘modern’ approach to it unfortunately gives us a pulpy movie.
And since there are murders you can assume that we have a buddy cop movie on our hands – yay! The real Poe had phases on relying on substances during his worst days, this script relies heavily on the account that he was a rabid, a violent drunk, a label disputed by his peers. Other actors considered to play Edgar were Ewan McGregor and Joanquin Phoenix who, as we know, had better things to do with their time. So Cusack’s stuck in this role, an actor who has played midlife crisis roles in better movies than, ahem, Hot Tub Time Machine. The script demands him to abscond others for being Philistines and Cusack decides to yell the word ‘philistine’ which yes, we get the irony but I wish he gave everyone, including me, earplugs before he ruins his vocal chords.
Since Cusack is the loud one in this dynamic, the more quiet one is Baltimore Detective Emmett Fields, played by Luke Evans. Both actors don’t lean back and realize how ridiculous their movie is, and this obliviousness is more pointed with Evans because his performance is mostly humourless. Other characters rounding out the story are Edgar’s love interest played by Alice Eve, an actress too good for most of her movies. But she’s delightful to watch as she recites Poe’s ‘Annabelle Lee’ falls in love, no matter which loudmouth gross person she’s falling in love with. There’s the love interest’s father, Mr. Hamilton, played by Brendan Gleeson, the most Southern of the performances, incorporating twangs within certain parts of his speech without overdoing it (Maryland, although loyal to the Union, is still part of the South). Then there’s Pam Ferris playing one of the Baltimore ladies, and she, just like any Children of Men cast member, gets a pass.
Again, this is trashy, and Lucas Vidal’s ill-fitting electronic musical score and McTeigue’s little visual effects don’t help me in liking whichever effect this movie is trying to instill in me. But that doesn’t mean that McTeigue doesn’t try to insert moments of beauty within it. The CGI used for transforming sets are barely noticeable – the movie doesn’t use what it doesn’t need. There are, at least, some aesthetically pleasing moments in the movie. The first is when Edgar is lecturing the Baltimore ladies about poetry. I don’t want to go on Armond White territory, comparing pulpy movies to classics, but then, I can’t help noticing the medium shots of the ladies remind me of ones in the party scene in Luchino Visconti’s Il Gattopardo, showing these women in various degrees of facial beauty despite coiling themselves in the time’s fashions. There’s something authentic in showing that the upper classes don’t all look like starlets. There’s also another scene where Edgar lunges at a door, cape flying behind him. These beautiful bits come with period movies and I’m a sucker for moments like that, no matter what else comes in between.
The DVD comes with French audio, French and English subtitles, and helpful audio commentary from McTeigue and the movie’s different producers. Along with these special features, The Blu-Ray has deleted and extended scenes, various featurettes about shooting the movie, about Poe, the cast, the music, as well as the theatrical trailer.