Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Raven

For F*** Magazine

Movie Review                                                                                                                   16/4/12
(2012 Release)

Starring: John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve
Directed by: James McTeigue

            In National Treasure, America’s founding fathers were the guardians of a secret treasure stash. In the Men In Black films, Elvis, Steven Spielberg and Sylvester Stallone (who is coincidentally planning his own Poe biopic) are aliens. The Brothers Grimm fought mythical monsters. Here, Edgar Allan Poe is roped in by Baltimore’s finest to solve a series of murders based on his stories. This may not seem as impressive, but taking into account the legendary author’s dark imagination and famously macabre stories, the crimes are pretty gruesome. This is the guy credited with the creation of the modern horror and detective stories, after all.

            There is tremendous potential in the idea of Poe pitted against a killer who takes direct inspiration from his tales. Unfortunately, most of it is squandered in favour of unsophisticated slasher movie fare. “People love blood and murder”, Reynolds (Kevin R McNally) the newspaper editor tells Poe. And in that respect, the movie delivers – the most gruesome murder happens relatively early on in the movie, where the victim is cut in half by a lowering bladed pendulum, something out of a Saw film – though Poe did it first in The Pit and the Pendulum.
Problem is, more people are likely to have a Saw film than read Poe’s story.

            John Cusack’s Poe is quite a disappointment. He’s portrayed as the typical eccentric artist, and there’s no mystique or danger, especially given the enigma the real Poe was. Cusack also doesn’t fit into the period surroundings at all; one would half expect him to lift a ghetto blaster over his head. At its worst, it brings to mind Nicolas Cage – not a good thing.

            Inspector Fields, as played by Luke Evans, is earnest, hardworking, dedicated – and absolutely one-note and boring. The interesting dynamic that might have existed between the author and the policeman is all but absent. The inclusion of Alice Eve as Emily Hamilton, a love interest for Poe, is done rather lazily, considering that he had a wife but was famously asexual and apparently only loved her platonically. But that would have been too difficult to portray and would have gotten in the way of the pulpy thrills now, wouldn’t it? And so, she’s quickly put in jeopardy as a motivator for Poe, and to force Poe and her disapproving father (Brendan Gleeson) to work together.   

            When the identity of the killer is revealed, it is more likely to induce an indifferent “meh” as opposed to the desired “gasp!” And that’s the cardinal sin when it comes to whodunits. Director James McTeigue also delights in heavy-handed faux-symbolism – just because the title of the movie is “The Raven” doesn’t mean one or more of the birds have to flutter into frame in every other scene. However, the art direction and the re-creation of 19th Century Baltimore are generally pretty good.
So, this is pretty much average Poe.

PS: I take offense to the newspaper editor dismissing criticism (i.e. reviews) as “the easy stuff”.

SUMMARY: I’m no Poe, so the best I can come with is “you won’t be ravin’ about The Raven”. Hey, give me points for trying.


Jedd Jong


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