James McTeigue‘s The Raven, starring John Cusack as famous American writer Edgar Allan Poe is unfortunately just another generic whodunit mystery with a promising opening act, struggling second act and a third act that fails to impress, surprise or reward. It’s not all bad though, with most of the actors giving their particular character enough spice to keep you entertained, but everything plays out a little too safe, keeping things predictable and all too familiar.
A young Baltimore detective by the name of Fields (Luke Evans) comes across a series of murders that are inspired by the works of American poet Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack). Poe isn’t the most liked gentleman around town, spending most of his time at the pub begging for a drink. He’s full of himself (and he should be given his talent), but when a chain of murders pop up he gives his undying attention to the local authorities, in hopes of catching this crazed stalker/fan and possibly getting a spark of creativity out of the deal.
Things get really personal when a close one is snatched up and held ransom. Poe, Fields and a few trusted others are faced against time as the killer promises to harm more innocent people if they don’t do exactly what he tells them to do. With each inspired death he forces Poe to write about it and publish it in the local paper. This both causes Poe to look like an even bigger asshole, yet it sparks some interest from readers as they are taken deeper and deeper into Poe’s head, where his insanity slowly forms.
He’s taken to the breaking point and back in this James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) directed thriller. On the whole it never quite works, because it barely takes advantage of the concept at hand. Having a famous author like Poe in a film should open up the doors for all kinds of possibilities, yet McTeigue keeps things focused on the blah mystery that turns out to be nothing more than a rushed pick of the least expecting. It’s not even a twist if you think about it; the film simply chooses the easiest way out that will only shock you because you’ll be scratching your head wondering who the hell the killer even was to the film.
John Cusack for the most part brings Poe to the screen with a balance of class and humor. He spouts off famous lines from Poe’s work, while also giving us a look at the drunken fool that he was. I’m no Poe expert, so I can’t give the character his fair shake, but I can say that Cusack makes him a character worthy of watching. The problem isn’t with Cusack’s interpretation of the character, but with McTeigue’s lack of focus on the character.
McTeigue instead chooses to focus on side characters like Detective Fields, played with a straight-face by Luke Evans. It’s not that Evans doesn’t do a good job with the role, it’s just that he never fully emotes anything more than a constant anger. He’s upset from start to finish and he never stops to shed some light on the character’s background. I can’t blame Evans for a poorly written character, but he could have attempted to add some flavor to a flavorless character.
Brendan Gleeson and Alice Eve don’t do much either. They both show up on screen for five minute stretches to remind you that they’re in the film, but then they hastily exit.
The film never has time to ripen or become something special. It sounded good on paper, yet its execution is a massive disappointment. Things run on autopilot for the most part, but occasionally McTeigue really drops the ball when he throws in an idiotic shootout or when he closes it out with a bullshit ending that totally ruins the little good that the film had going.
The Raven boils down to a waste of time for the audience and a waste of effort from John Cusack. It’s not a terrible film, but it easily could have been so much more. McTeigue instead chooses the easiest way out and layers the film with cliches and predictability until you can’t stand it anymore, in which case he ends the film and moves onto the neatly designed end credits, which I found more amusing than everything before it.
The Raven – 6/10