Edgar Allan Poe was one of the greatest American writers in history. He was the man who could be credited for the creation of the horror genre and detective fiction.
A man who spawned countless imitators. A man who during his lifetime would get more respect in Europe and have to wait until after his death to gain the appreciation and reverence in his own home country.
A man who lived a tortured life which would help fuel his grim stories. He would die too young and in a very mysterious way.
There’s plenty about Poe that is intriguing. I’ve always found him a fascinating figure. Not only the work he created, but the man himself. He had lived such a tortured life and created such a macabre body of work that a well made examination of his life – while perhaps not possible to illuminate everything about him – could possibly present some interesting hypothesis’ and theories about who this man truly was.
The Raven is not that film.
This is quite simply a fictionalized story thrusting Mr. Poe into playing the real life role of detective trying to stop a serial killer who dispatches his victims in the same way Poe had described in his own stories.
Getting past the fact this was not a biographical film about Poe (something I would have been more excited to see), this premise should yield some fun on a more superficial level.
With this more action-oriented take on a 19th century character The Raven has fallen into a new category of films that have attempted to update the dim candle lit rooms, cobblestone streets and foggy settings of the past with an added dose of adrenaline and a more exciting 21st century presentation. It’s something more along the lines of historical fiction.
The Raven has drawn comparisons to From Hell – the fictionalized Jack the Ripper comic and film. Also the recent Sherlock Holmes films, where the fictional intellectual detective is thrust into showy adventures. Let’s also add Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter where Abe writing speeches was skipped over for the more exciting off hour job of staking vampires. Even Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow had Icabod Crane as some kind of 19th century forensic expert.
This is all well and good and I’m ready to lose myself into stretching the truth for the sake of seeing a good story unfold, but the Edgar Allan Poe in The Raven is not as dynamic or as interesting a character as he might have been just sitting alone in a room writing.
John Cusack plays Poe and while I really like Cusack the best I can say about his performance is that it’s adequate. I can’t help but think there were much better actors for this part. I’m not sure what attracted him to this role anyway. Other than getting to play ‘Edgar Allan Poe’ – yeah that’s cool, but this Poe doesn’t really say or do anything.
It’s hard for me to grasp why I should care about this man. He’s presented as a drunken, angry man and there doesn’t seem to be much more to him than that. Cusack is given one speech where he recounts some of the pain this man is carrying, but it’s much too fleeting to leave an impact.
Poe is in love with the beautiful, rich socialite Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve) who has agreed to marry him despite the protests of her father. First off, I could not connect to anything about this Poe that any woman could have fallen in love with. What was it that’s so lovable about this guy and has captured Emily’s heart? We never find out.
Secondly, the filmmakers decided this romance needed more drama to spice it up so her father Captain Charles Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson) disapproves of Poe and does not want his daughter to have anything to do with him. This whole secretive romance and the tension between Poe and Emily’s father quickly dissipates and I didn’t see why they bothered even setting it up in the first place.
Detective Fields played by Luke Evans is meant to be Poe’s ally in this investigation. And Fields is as flat and forgettable a character as they could have possibly made. At first he’s suspicious of Poe, but not surprisingly he warms up to him and becomes his confidant.
Throughout the film all he does is bark orders at his men, run after mysterious figures and listen to Poe. It’s an extremely boring character. In fact I don’t even know why they bothered giving this guy a name.
Emily is kidnapped and it’s a race against time for Poe and Fields to find her and uncover the identity of this Poe-inspired killer. Sadly there’s not much mystery to the revelation since the film doesn’t set up a crop of suspects for us to guess who it might be. It sort of comes out of nowhere and it doesn’t leave you with a satisfying “Ah it was that person!”- kind of reaction. You could probably have replaced any number of anonymous supporting characters as the killer and it would have been just as sufficient.
So, the main character of Poe is poorly done. The romance between our two leads is forced and doesn’t feel genuine. Poe’s is saddled with a boring, flat partner. A lot of the time characters don’t feel like they’re talking in the way people in Baltimore would have spoken in 1849. They had the costumes and the sets, but there was something about some of the exchanges that just sounded awkward.
The mystery is pretty much nonexistent, so it’s not too captivating a ‘Who Done It?’ and the murders that have been pulled from Poe’s words are surprisingly really bland. The film really don’t milk them for all they’re worth. Not to mention they seem downright unbelievable when you think about the logic and work that would have to go into making them a reality.
With all that said, I have to confess I’m not sure what the point was to make this movie or what story the filmmakers really felt excited to tell. I wasn’t expecting much when I sat down and watched this and boy was I right. This did have the potential to be an entertaining film, but it ends up being a very forgettable exercise.
I was hoping this would be a Cusack film I would enjoy. As the years go by and with each passing film I get less and less enthusiastic about him. I look at the films he’s done in the last decade and barely any of them jump out at me. His choices seem to be less inspired, there are more misfires and it all just adds to my confusion. I really want to be reminded why I used to be excited to see Cusack onscreen again.