Northeast Times

Cusack is a likable Poe, but ‘The Raven’ just doesn’t fly

John Cu­s­ack as Poe in The Raven.

Start­Frag­ment

The Raven re­minded me quite a bit of that TV show called Castle with Nath­an Fil­lion. That show began with the premise of an au­thor help­ing a de­tect­ive solve a copycat murder based on one of his stor­ies.

The only dif­fer­ence is that The Raven is set in 19th-cen­tury Bal­timore in­stead of 21st-cen­tury New York City. And in­stead of a fic­tion­al au­thor, The Raven uses Edgar Al­lan Poe to help find a killer.

Yes, it’s one of those movies that at­tempt to re­write his­tory by cre­at­ing a fic­tion­al­ized ac­count of a real per­son’s last days. I shud­der at the thought of naïve movie­go­ers who will see this and think it is a true story simply be­cause Poe was an ac­tu­al per­son.

The movie tells us at the be­gin­ning how Poe was found de­li­ri­ous and near death on a park bench in Bal­timore on Oct. 3, 1849, but no one knows what happened dur­ing his fi­nal days or how he wound up there. He ac­tu­ally died in a hos­pit­al four days later.

The audi­ence is in­tro­duced to Poe (John Cu­s­ack) as a pen­ni­less poet who spends his days wast­ing away on a bad li­quor habit, writ­ing lit­er­ary cri­tiques for the loc­al pa­per (some funny jabs at crit­ics are taken) and still await­ing his big break though he has had nu­mer­ous pub­lished works.

When a moth­er and daugh­ter are found bru­tally murdered, De­tect­ive Fields (Luke Evans) re­quests the aid of Poe be­cause he real­izes the murders seem to be in­spired by one of his writ­ings. Soon more murders take place, with Poe as the com­mon thread.

To up the ante, the killer kid­naps Poe’s lady love, Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve), with the prom­ise of her cer­tain death —un­less Poe pens par­ables of the killer’s dast­ardly deeds for the news­pa­per.

Be­fore the ac­tu­al killer was re­vealed, I was able to nar­row it to two sus­pects, a lot bet­ter than so-called “De­tect­ive” Fields could do. Or maybe it was just that the thinly plot­ted script from writers Ben Liv­ing­ston and Han­nah Shakespeare didn’t of­fer any ad­di­tion­al op­tions. No, The Raven is nev­er quite as clev­er as it thinks it is or should be, so when the killer is re­vealed, it doesn’t feel like a rev­el­a­tion.

The Raven is not a hor­ror movie per se, but it’s hard to tell based on the amount of blood and guts favored by dir­ect­or James Mc­Teigue. Over­all, it was a bit too gory for my tastes, and I es­pe­cially could have done without see­ing a man sliced in half. Ba­sic­ally, it was grot­esque, yet it nev­er fell in­to the scary-movie cat­egory.

Cu­s­ack of­ten makes un­con­ven­tion­al choices for his movie roles, and Edgar Al­len Poe is an OK role for him. It’s like the film­makers put out the cast­ing call for the Johnny Depp or Robert Downey Jr. “type,” and they got John Cu­s­ack. This isn’t ne­ces­sar­ily a bad thing; Cu­s­ack seems eager in his por­tray­al; he’s a charm­ing and likable Poe.

I was not in­tim­ately versed in the works of Poe; there­fore it was not ne­ces­sar­ily ex­cit­ing for me to see his words come to life. Someone who is more fa­mil­i­ar with his stor­ies may en­joy that as­pect of the movie more than I did.

As a murder mys­tery, The Raven is “nev­er­more” than me­diocre. ••

Movie Grade: C

You can reach at shorbrook@bsmphilly.com.

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