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The Raven: Robwrite's Review

Updated on April 28, 2012

John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe

Once upon a movie dreary

THE RAVEN: (2.5 stars out of 5)

There are few literary figures whose lives were more tumultuous and angst-ridden than that gothic master of the macabre Edgar Allan Poe. Considering how fascinating his life was, you'd think that a film about him would be equally engrossing. Sadly, The Raven doesn't live up to the potential of it's protagonist.

On the plus side, John Cusack is ideally cast as the literary legend, alternately capturing Poe's egotism, bitterness, and self-destructive wildness. Unfortunately, he's let down by a script which tries too hard to be a hybrid of David Fincher's Se7en and Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes. It's an awkward fit, with no real memorable moments, although Cusack does his best to hold the weak material together.

The fact that the film has such a potentially clever premise makes its failure to live up to its promise all the more frustrating. The story purports to explain Poe's mysterious death at age 40. For the edification of those unfamiliar with the circumstances of the real Poe's demise, In 1849 he was found after a disappearance of several days, lying on a park bench in Baltimore, semi-conscious and babbling incoherently, repeating the name "Reynolds". He was taken to the hospital where he died. The Raven offers a fanciful hypothesis to explain how Poe ended up in that sad state.

The plot follows Poe during the last week of his life. Poe has already published all his great works but has squandered his money and is broke. He tries to get drinks on credit and badgers his boss at the local Baltimore newspaper to publish his literary reviews so he can get paid. The editor, Maddox, (Kevin McNally) tells Poe to write more Gothic horror stories because the public likes the gory stuff, but Poe has writer's block when it comes to horror stories. The one bright spot in Poe's troubled life is his romance with cute, blond Emily (Alice Eve), the daughter of rich, pompous Captain Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson), although daddy doesn't approve of the penniless, undisciplined Poe.

Meanwhile, police detective Fields (Well played by Luke Evans) is investigating a series of serial killings and realizes that the murderer is using the stories written by Poe as inspiration for his grizzly handiwork. (One of the victims is chopped in half by a swinging blade, as in 'the Pit & the Pendulum'.) After questioning Poe--since one of the victims is a critic who has savaged Poe's work--Fields tries to get Poe to help him investigate the murders. Poe cooperates begrudgingly until Alice is kidnapped, motivating Poe to match wits with the mystery villain, in a race to rescue her before time runs out (she's been buried alive 'House of Usher' style.) The bad guy instructs Poe to write the details of the case down as a story. (There's a reason for this but it's kind of lame.)

The film has some anachronistic errors, such as the use of the term "serial killer" 100 years before the expression was actually invented, and the dates of some of his works are wrong. Most of the dialogue is mediocre, especially when contrasted with quotations from some of Poe's actual stories. (The readings of verses from 'Annabel Lee' and 'the Raven' are the best moments.)

Director James McTeique, who created a stylish dystopian future in V for Vendetta, has a tougher time making 1849 Baltimore into the grand guignol setting it needs to be for a film like this. The Se7en-like gore of the villain's death traps might appeal to a younger audience, however, a film about Edgar Allen Poe is not likely to attract a youthful demographic. And the ultimate resolution to the mystery is so uninspired and unimaginative, you'll be wishing the screen writers had some of Poe's imagination.

John Cusack is a consistently excellent actor, and very under-rated. His name doesn't often come up when people talk about the great actors of the modern era but it should. He's the best thing about this film, although Evans offers some strong support as Detective Fields. Gleeson doesn't get much of a chance to make an impression here. Eve is rather generic and bland as the love interest.

The 1935 film The Raven with Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff also featured a sadistic maniac (Lugosi) who kills people with Poe-inspired traps, including the 'Pit & the Pendulum'. That film wasn't a masterpiece but it still succeeds better than this one due to Lugosi's sinister turn as the villain. The bad guy here, when finally revealed, is an underwhelming disappointment.

This film is a mass of unrealized potential and Cusack's strong leading performance can't do much to bring life into it. If Poe were alive today, and still writing literary criticism, he'd give The Raven a bad review.

Not recommended, except for diehard Poe fans.


Rob




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    • Robwrite profile image
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      Rob 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Hi Colin; Stallone as Poe? It boggles the mind! So glad we were spared that.

      Thanks for reading,

      Rob

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 5 years ago

      Personally Bob the previews looked kind of cheesy - I thought John Cusak was going to run to the nearest phone booth and change into Edgar Allan - Super Poe - no I think I will pass on this one - did you hear the rumor years ago that Slyvester Stallone was a big fan of Poe and wanted to star himself in a bio of Poe - lol - I think I will pass on that one too - lake erie time 7:21am

    • Robwrite profile image
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      Rob 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Hi Bruce; How have you been? It's best if you see this for free. It's not the worst film I've seen this year but it falls so short of what it should have been. Such a missed opportunity.

      Great to hear from you again,

      Rob

    • Cogerson profile image

      Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

      Well I had high hopes for this movie....as I am a huge Cusack fan.....sorry to see that you are not recommending this one...I will be waiting for a free viewing from my local library...which means I will have another couple months to wait to see this movie. Enjoyed reading your review....job well done.

    • Robwrite profile image
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      Rob 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Hi; The book sounds interesting. It's probably more fun than the film. A lot more could have been done with a character like Poe.

      Thanks for commenting,

      Rob

    • bewhuebner profile image

      bewhuebner 5 years ago from Virginia, USA

      I've seen a few poor reviews of this film and yours sealed the deal for me.. Probably won't bother watching it...lol... I'd rather read Poe's Shadow by Matthew Pear againl... A good book somewhat along the same premise, without the overdone gore...Good review Rob!

    • Robwrite profile image
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      Rob 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Hi; I was looking forward to it, too. It isn't totally without merit, but it was disappointing.

      Thanks for stopping by,

      Rob

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 5 years ago from Canada

      Rob, very well done review. I have been eyeing this movie, because of the literary connection and the fact that I am a huge fan of John Cusack. With such good material and such a good actor, I am not surprised it wasn't better than it was. I still might see it, though. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Robwrite profile image
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      Rob 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Hi Steve; So did I. "V for Vendetta" was a fun adaptation of Alan Moore's story. It's too bad this one wasn't as strong as that.

      Thanks for visiting my hub,

      Rob

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 5 years ago from London, England

      Thanks for the review Rob. I had high hopes for this one, I really liked McTeigue's V for Vendetta. Oh well I'm sure I'll catch it on disc some time.

      Voted Up.

    • Robwrite profile image
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      Rob 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      I feel bad for Poe, too. He was a tortured soul. It comes out in his stories; his fascination with death and his odes to his dead wife make him one of the best of the dark romantics.

      I can completely sympathize with being a poor, struggling artist. That fear of being unable to pay for the necessities detracts from the creative flow.

      It's a pity Poe never got paid much when he was alive (He sold "the Raven" for $10.00) because a man of his fame today would be living in a mansion.

      Rob

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      I always felt very sorry for Poe. He was a man out of his time, and a tormented soul. His artistry with words wasn't appreciated in his own time as much as we appreciate it today. I think not only hurt him but kept him poor; often artists suffer so much from poverty; it distracts them from being able to realize their inner visions and torments them by having to pay attention to the petty details of maintaining a physical existence somehow.

      Poe won't get a dime from this movie. The actor who plays his part gets millions. Somehow, that doesn't seem fair, does it?

    • Robwrite profile image
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      Rob 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Hi Paradise; yes, that was what I was getting at. Poe's own tragic life story is so interesting that it could have made a great film. This fanciful speculation about his mysterious death is just a potpouri of ideas taken from other films, like "Se7en", "Sherlock Holmes" and the original "Raven". It's not as interesting as the real Poe's life.

      Always a pleasure, Paradise,

      Rob

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Good review; I might see the film anyway, just for John Cusak. Too bad they ruined what could be a great story. The real story behind Poe's life is spell-binding, but very sad and grim. It would have been fine just to make it a film bio; that would have worked better than the mish-mash; I think that was your point.

    • Robwrite profile image
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      Rob 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Hi Jools; Cusack is good in this, as usual. It's too bad the writers and the director couldn't get a strong story out of the life of Poe. He's such an interesting guy, maybe a bio-pic would have been more fun than this speculative story about his death. It's a shame.

      Always good to hear from you,

      Rob

    • Robwrite profile image
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      Rob 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Hi Alliemacb; I'd recommend waiting for it on cable or regular TV. It's not really worth the bother of a trip to the cinema and paying the admission price.

      Thanks for reading,

      Rob

    • Robwrite profile image
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      Rob 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Hi Dahoglund; How are you? It was disappointing because it had so much potential. It's too bad.

      Rob

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 5 years ago from North-East UK

      Rob, nice review, what a shame it hasn't lived up to its billing. I was quite looking forward to seeing this on DVD sometime, I really like John Cusack and I thought Poe's life would make a good subject for a movie.

      Voted up, etc.

    • alliemacb profile image

      alliemacb 5 years ago from Scotland

      Thanks for the review. The trailer for this movie didn't really grab me so I was undecided about going to see it at the cinema. Think I'll save my money and wait for it to reach TV.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I haven't read Poe for some time. It is disappointing that this film is not more inspiring. Useful review.

    • Robwrite profile image
      Author

      Rob 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Hi Flora; I enjoy Cusack's work, too, and I had hopes that the combination of him and one of my favorite authors would lead to something special. Alas, it did not.

      Thanks for visiting, Flora,

      Rob

    • profile image

      Flora Breen Robison 5 years ago

      Although I am a Poe fan, I won't go near this movie. Thanks for the warning. Cusak is one of the current actors I enjoy watching. He was in an excellent thriller called Identity and some off beat films I like such as Being John Malcovich.

    • Robwrite profile image
      Author

      Rob 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Hi Phobe.It's a disappointing film because it could have been so much better. Its not without any merit (Cusack is very good) but just not enough. Unless you're a fanatic Poe fan, then there isn't really enough here to make a trip to the theater worth it.

      That's for commenting,

      Rob

    • Robwrite profile image
      Author

      Rob 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Hello John; I love Meville (Bartelby and Moby Dick especially) although I haven't read a lot of Dostoyevsky. Poe is one of my favorites, which is why I had hoped thefilm would be better.

      Cusack is a talented and reliable actor who doesn't get the recognition he deserves.

      Thanks for reading,

      Rob

    • profile image

      Phoebe Pike 5 years ago

      Well, that's upsetting. I was really looking forward to seeing it, but if it's as bad as you describe then it would be a waste of time. I can forgive terms like "serial killer", but getting Poe facts wrong? *shakes head in dismay* Thanks for the review. Saved me the trouble of seeing another bad movie.

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Thanks for this excellent review of the film. I might just watch it this weekend, who knows?

      I never did care for Poe. I'm more of a Melville and Dostoevsky man myself, although most will agree Poe influenced them both.

      Additionally, you're right about saying that Cusack is an excellent actor who has always been underated.

      Take care and voted up

      John