‘The Raven’ Movie Review – A Fictionalized Flop
It’s always a risky move to put your own fictionalized spin on something true. With every success there are bound to be failures. In the case of James McTeigue’s historical-fiction thriller The Raven, failure prevails over success. Yes, there are aspects of the film that work, but the whole is a sum of its parts. In this case, the parts are more contrived than well-conceived, making it feel like a shallow replication of one of the most historically prolific writers.
Centering around Edgar Allen Poe’s (John Cusack) life, The Raven tries to explain the circumstances surrounding his odd death. In real life, Poe was found in an almost non-coherent stupor on a park bench in Baltimore, MD. Before he inevitably passed, Poe tried to explain his circumstances, but nobody ever understood exactly what lead up to this death. Everything from alcoholism to heart disease to STDs have been believed to have taken his life.
However, this fictionalized story showcases his final days as a cat-and-mouse action thriller with Poe’s literary works as the catalyst for a string of brutal murders. Originally wanted for the killing of a woman and her daughter, Inspector Fields (Luke Evans) quickly realizes how Poe can serve as an asset, rather than a suspect. The unknown villain starts out by replicating Poe’s work, but eventually moves on to taunting him. As Poe and Fields embark on their investigation, the violence begins to hit closer to home, forcing them to make sacrifices to catch a sadistic murderer.
Writing it down, the story actually seems a lot more like a thriller. In most cases, the villain ends up being the most dynamic character. We don’t root for the villain, but they’re generally the most fun to watch. However, The Raven paints itself into a corner by keeping the villain hidden. Suspense-wise, it has potential, but it constricts itself way too much. Then, when the reveal does happen, we aren’t left with a motive that seems to justify the grisly murders.
It may be easy to get past the killer’s lack of character development, but the film overcompensates by trying too hard with Poe. Cusack does an alright job with the performance, but the writing tries way too hard to showcase his pompous side. On the flipside, they deemphasis his drinking problem after the initial twenty minutes. The rest of the runtime tussles between comedy and thriller. This kind of tone doesn’t bode well with a period murder mystery.
To its credit, the film does its homework regarding Poe’s works. Sure, at times it seemed like the writers tried to shove it down our throats. However, there are plenty of references to his known (and unknown) works for Poe enthusiasts. I won’t pretend to be an expert in the field, but I did appreciate some of the references.
Edgar Allen Poe is a fun character, in theory, to portray onscreen. The Raven, though, doesn’t focus on the character’s flaws. An uncomplicated look at one of the most controversial literary figures in history does the fictionalized thriller an injustice. I’m not against rewriting history (or in this case, writing it), but it must be done well to overcome preconceived notions. The flaws stack up, easily overtaking some of the better parts – including Evans’ performance, the set design, and Poe’s actual writings. Overall, the film doesn’t amount to anything with substance. This certainly doesn’t help a plot that has so much going against it before the film even begins.