The Raven can described many ways; not only as an Edgar Allan Poe movie, but also a Sherlock-esque/CSI mystery procedural and a revisionist Victorian drama. There’s a lot to like in the film but there’s also a lot of head-scratching moments. As if that’s not weird enough the movie really will only connect with fans who can identity specific Poe stories. It’s a solid movie and yet the sum of its parts is just baffling.
When a mysterious killer starts terrorizing the people of London, murdering people in the forms of Edgar Allan Poe works, it’s up to the prolific author (John Cusack) and a detective (Luke Evans) to stop him.
As an English major I appreciated this in the same way I did Midnight in Paris: the literary angle. That right there should inform audiences if this is for them as the movie recreates not just Poe’s bigger works, but his more obscure stuff. There’s obvious murders themed towards the Pit and the Pendulum and Telltale Heart, but there’s a murder themed towards The Cask of Amontillado which I doubt layman will grasp. While I enjoyed it, I’m sure that others won’t. There’s a lot of good blood and gore and the murders are extremely creative.
Ultimately, the film thrives based on John Cusack. I was a bit hesitant when he was cast because he doesn’t look like Poe in the slightest. It works in his quirky manner. The way he plays par is not too far off the mark from Robert Downey, Jr. in Sherlock Holmes. This could be seen as a rip-off but it worked to make the story seem darker as Cusack turned cockiness into hostility. Sure the movie doesn’t devote any time to Poe’s personal life (including his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin) and ups the quirk factor a bit too much with a raccoon for a pet (I have to assume a pun to the theories that his death was attributed to rabies?) but I enjoyed Cusack for every second he was on screen.
For all the things I enjoyed, there was just as much that was wrong with The Raven. As mentioned above there’s very little explanation on the books for those who haven’t read them. Inspector Fields (Luke Evans) pulls out a book once but the title is a blink and you’ll miss it shot. None of the titles are explained, it’s just assumed the audience knows them or doesn’t care. The film has a straight-forward mystery procedural feel and is pretty much a Gothic take on ABC’s Castle (cop meets popular author) and the film’s 111 minute runtime does drag towards the climax. There’s far too many red herrings and the relationship between Poe and Emily (Alice Eve) seems off-putting if you know Poe’s history, not to mention Eve looks like Cusack’s daughter. Luke Evans continues to be duller than wood playing the straight-laced detective. I’ve never yearned for Orlando Bloom to reclaim his mantle than when Luke Evans is in a movie.
The Raven isn’t perfect but it’s a strong matinee movie, especially for book nerds. It’s got plot problems, it plays fast and loose with Poe’s history, and the romance is just odd but I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t buy it on DVD but it’s a fun time-waster.