Film Review: The Raven

Death imitating Art

The struggles of the life as an artist are well documented throughout the ages. The ‘starving artist’ valiantly striving to continue his calling against all the odds. Against poverty, addictions, insanity and the constant fear of irrelevance or obscurity. It’s a whole new chapter when your art is responsible for murder. Now that’s a harsh critic at work.

The Raven

The Raven is based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe, considered to be the inventor of the modern detective story, and in particular focuses on an event where Poe had disappeared for a few days, only to be discovered sitting disorientated on a park bench, on the cusp of death.

That in itself sounds like the plot to one of his macabre tales that was serialised in one of the local Baltimore papers. Pretty much an alcoholic, Poe’s (and ours) lines of distinction between art/reality are drunkenly blurred. Stumbling around trying to grasp an understanding. But there’s nothing like the cold stab of murder to sober one up pretty sharply.

The recently established Baltimore Police are informed of a potential murder in progress. At the scene, there are screams coming from a room on the fourth floor. Upon breaking in to halt the crime, the only thing left in the locked room (with nailed shut windows) is the freshly murdered victim….and nothing else.

At the murder scene, Inspector Emmett Fields (Luke Evans, last seen in Immortals) has an errie deja vu. It feels way too familiar. That’s because it is. And so begins Poe’s misadventure.

John Cusack is a life long fan and clearly relishes his character Poe with aplomb. Anyone who follows Cusack on twitter (@JohnCusack), and you should, will recognise shared character traits, fiction and reality blurring once again.

Cusack was also friends with the literary maverick who was Hunter S. Thompson, whom I couldn’t stop thinking (of in a very positive way) during the movie. It’s almost as if Hunter time travelled and became an intellectual Victorian crime fighter. Poe’s vocal distaste for editors and critics is an absolute joy to watch. There’s a wonderous cry for salvation from a soon to be departed victim pleading for pardon on the basis of “I’m only a critic”. A very memorable departure it is too.

Poe is also encouraged the use of the powers of intellect, science and empathy to deduce a resolution. His character has a natural kindred spirit in the Inspector as the tale expands into somewhat contemporary scenarios of fan obsession and stalking as the perpetrator of the murders demands Poe to serialise and publish the deathly Gothic events that are unfolding before us. They become both an inspiration and a damnation for our anti hero.

Directed by James McTeigue (V for Vendetta), who clearly has a thing for bleak foggy days and old brick tunnels. It’s a wonderful dark saga. Beautifully rich in detail. With some great performances from the likes of Brendan Glesson (In Bruges, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1) and Cusack.

Glesson plays the father of Poe’s love interest Emily, played by the distractingly beautiful Alice Eve (Sex and the City 2). Everyone clearly enjoyed penning and presenting a modernised update to tales from another era. Like Poe himself, the film isn’t without flaws.

The Raven Movie Review

Some scenes work far more coherently than others, and some moments look like they were made with no budget at all. These are few and far between, and certainly not enough to warrant any major criticism (for fear of disection), though there is a massive continuity error in a tunnel chase scene which drew gasps from the audience I saw the movie with.

seven out of 10Nevertheless, as in the spirit of books, it’s morbid fun. And you will want to rush out and read all of Poe’s work. Which is a nice modern twist, a movie inspiring you to go read some books.

The Raven is on general release in the UK from the 8th March