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