Quoth the critic, “Nevermore”
To say The Raven is a disappointment is not exactly true; I didn’t expect much from it. To say it is a squandered opportunity isn’t exactly true, either; it didn’t even sound like a promising idea. To say it is “all right” is probably heaping too much praise upon it. Nevertheless, it’s not entirely horrible.
Who do we credit for the idea of teaming Edgar Allen Poe with a young Baltimore detective to solve a series of murders based on his writing? Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare wrote the screenplay. He’s an actor and she’s written mostly for TV; neither have genre experience. Perhaps in more capable hands, the concept could have been developed into something interesting. However, The Raven strays so far from any possible reality that it’s instead just silly.
The fundamental problem is Poe himself. John Cusack does a great job… of playing a character, but not one that I imagine resembles anyone close to Edgar Allen Poe. His drug problem is mentioned, but we see no evidence that it exists. Would someone as dark as Poe be in love with blonde ray of sunshine Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve); would she be in love with him? I just don’t buy that his biggest concern is having a review published in the local newspaper.
The next problem is that every time I start to suspend my disbelief just enough to possibly enjoy the movie, a modern word or phrase escapes the lips of the mid-19th century characters, jerking me out of the setting. It could have worked had it been consistent, but side-by-side with eloquent Poe-speak, it doesn’t.
Perhaps the biggest problem with The Raven is demonstrated by the murders themselves. There is one terrific scene of a killing based on The Pit & the Pendulum: it’s scary, suspenseful and gory. But that’s the only murder we see! All the others are represented by only the discoveries of the victims after the fact. If the movie had chosen to go all the way with the blood and gore approach, it would have been infinitely more entertaining.
Let’s credit director James McTeigue that The Raven is any good at all. I love V for Vendetta, and this movie is similar in style. It’s shot in an atmospheric and moody way, and it clips along at a nice pace. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to raise the script to its level. I normally think movies with a long list of writers is a sign of a troubled production. In this case, The Raven could have used another person to make it more consistent.
Ultimately, I’m not sure what to make of this cinematic curiosity. On one hand, it feels like an attempt to capitalize on Robert Downey, Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes. On another, it feels like an historical mash-up in the vein of Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. But on neither hand does it feel like something that can stand on its own merits. Again, this is not unfortunate for The Raven because who in their right mind would have thought it would work?