The Raven,
directed by James McTeigue
(20th Century Fox, 2012)

There's no question that Edgar Allan Poe loved, and loved deeply. But he never loved a woman named Emily Hamilton.

The Raven attempts to piece together some explanation for the death of Edgar Allan Poe, who was found raving on a Baltimore park bench in 1849, just a few days before he died. To do so, screenwriters Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare and director James McTeigue have reinvented the troubled, brilliant writer in many ways, not least of which is their creation of a new love interest, Emily, whose abduction forms the crux of the mystery that drives this plot.

Someone is murdering people in spectacular fashions, each derived in some way from Poe's fiction. After the first pair of murders is identified as a scene from "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," Poe (John Cusack) is summoned by Detective Fields (Luke Evans), first as a suspect and then as a consultant on the case. Then Emily (a bland Alice Eve) is kidnapped, and her life depends on Poe both interpreting the clues and writing a suitable story to tie them together.

Poe was a writer, a brilliant one, and the movie would have been well served by focusing entirely on the intellect and imagination that fueled his pen. Instead, we get unsavory scenes with Poe chasing people with lanterns, galloping on horseback and exchanging gunfire with a cloaked figure in a misty forest; why not give him some cool ninja skills while you're at it?

And if they'd shaved the beard off Cusack, he might even have looked a bit like Poe.

For purists, there are quite a few errors in the facts of Poe's life and death, but then again, this movie makes no claim or pretense of being a documentary. So when, for instance, the detective asks Poe if he's ever written a story that mentions a sailor and Poe says no, we can ignore the fact that they were just discussing "Rue Morgue," which is one of several stories by Poe that involve a sailor.

I give the creative team credit for pulling together the questions surrounding Poe's death and trying to come up with answers, although I wish they'd done a better job of it. Full marks, too, for the moody look of historic Baltimore. The movie, though, falls short of its goal.

By the way, has any film strived harder to craft a dark and brooding atmosphere, then abruptly shatter it with the music and CGI imagery of its closing credits?

review by
Tom Knapp

16 March 2013

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