Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Raven

Get out your booze and blood, we're reviewing The Raven!
Maybe I should have made his forehead bigger.
I feel with The Raven they were trying to turn Edgar Allen Poe into a Sherlock Holmes type character and create a story similar to From Hell, but it doesn't quite work.  It feels like The Raven is trying to be a lot of things, a classic mystery, a torture-porn gore fest, a summer action movie, and a respectful look at Poe's life, without doing any one of them very well. Minor spoilers follow.

Some mysterious events led up to Poe's death and no one really knows what those events were. This film tries to expound on them, taking place weeks earlier when Poe is broke and at the end of his creative rope.  A madman has started committing horrendous murders that are somehow connected to Poe's stories, and only Poe(John Cusack) and detective Fields(Luke Evans) can hope to stop his bloody rampage.

The movie opens with Poe's death, so already we know he's going to die at the end, we just don't know how or why or what leads to it. That's an interesting take, trying to explain what led up to the strange real life events of his death (He was found in the park, muttering something, wearing clothes that were not his own), but it kind of kills the tension. And though the story does go off the walls a bit, it doesn't go completely batshit off the walls as much as it could have.  And when you're talking about Edgar Allan Poe solving murders based off his poems, I really want it to go off the walls.  It is bloody and gory, but with the exception of one scene taken from one of the Saw movies, it's not THAT gory.

I enjoyed John Cusack's Poe. Not that I'm a Poe scholar and can attest to whether or not he did the author justice, but his Poe is fun. He's loud and boisterous, an insulting drunkard who slings cutting insults like shuriken, a bit romantic and very tragic. I liked the conflict they create: No one knows his works and he's a washed-up writer, but here comes along this killer that's in love with Poe's works. Except they didn't go far enough with it.  There's no internal conflict of Poe hating what his works did to someone yet being even a little pleased that at least he's in the papers again. Also he has a cute eccentric pet!
The real hero of The Raven. It should have been called "Fields".
One of the problems with Poe is that they don't give him much to do.  They're trying to make him Sherlock Holmes, but Poe is no detective, he's just a sad little writer. Most of the heavy lifting detective work falls to Fields, with Poe just being a walking reference guide to his collective works.  I wanted to like Fields, but he has no story other than trying to track down the killer because that's his job.  They also give Poe a love interest and really generic action movie reason for wanting to find the killer, which has zero tie-ins with his real life(imagine if it had been his first cousin who he married?!). Again, if you're going off the rails, go all out. The killer is REALLY easy to suss out, and the final confrontation Poe has with him is pretty disappointing. I wanted Poe to go crazy, have some great "AHA!" Sherlock moment where he turned the tables on the killer, but he's just sort of a sad writer leaving the killing shot to the detective.

There's also the problem of people being dumb to fit with the narrative. "There's a killer on the loose, and he's definitely coming to this ball, so we shouldn't cancel it or anything." Man, you are asking for trouble.  SPOILER ALERT KIND OF And then there's Poe, who, in order to fit with the real life ending of dying in a park, instead of waiting around for the police to tell them who the killer was, WHILE HE'S DYING, he has to physically walk at least half a mile to an abandoned park and waste away. Just, why would he do that? It's annoying. END SPOILER ALERT

After all of that though, I still semi-enjoyed it. Cusack's Poe is fun and it's entertaining to see the mystery unfold and understand how all the clues fit.  The action is alright, and I'm surprised they didn't release it in 3D as there are definitely a number of 3D shots here. Maybe they ran out of time for the conversion or thought it wouldn't make enough money to warrant the extra work? Or maybe 3D is so here that I'm seeing it even in 2D movies?

The rest of the cast are very good, including Luke Evans as Fields and Alice Eve as Emily Hamilton. I really liked Hamilton's character.  She's the girl that needs saving, but she's also badass and resourceful enough to save herself.  One thing I have to give credit to is the visuals. Maybe we've seen so many movies from the 1800's that it's a novelty by now, but it's still amazing the full world and spooky atmosphere they created with all the intricate sets and costumes. And I have to mention the score, which wasn't amazing exactly, but I rather enjoyed it.
A not entirely useless female lead.
Final notes: I have no idea why it's called The Raven.  Other than a Raven occasionally popping up here or there, and the fact that that's Poe's most notable work, there's no greater thematic reason. You would think that the killer would name himself 'The Raven' or a raven would be the final telling clue, or Poe would realize his whole life was 'The Raven' or they found the killer and he tells them "The raven made me do it!" or the killer was actually a raven, or anything cooky like that, but no. None of these.  A better name might have been 'Nevermore' or 'Poe' or 'The Telltale Killer' or even 'The Death of Poe'.  Also, for those that enjoy credits sequences, there were some strangely out of place 3D graphical raven end credit sequences! Yay?

The Raven is stuck on a crossroads trying to go in a number of different directions.  If it chose one and went full crazy ridiculous murder mystery or full gore, or even full realistic documentary it could have been amazing, but as it stands it's only pretty good. It's still entertaining, but like a political science sophomore, it just doesn't know what it wants to be.

THE GOOD: Cusack as Poe, Evans as Fields, Emily is badass, the cast overall really, the gorgeous sets, nice 1800's thriller atmosphere, the soundtrack is good, a few gory bits.

THE BAD: Fails to make the real life stuff entertaining, the mystery is too easy, too gory for people who hate gore and not gory enough for people who love it, Fields has no character and Poe isn't crazy enough, anti-climactic ending, dumb characters, why is it called the Raven?

THE VERDICT: $$$ It's ok. I wouldn't run out to see it but it's still half-way fun. If you NEED something gory or mystery-y at the theater, it's not bad, otherwise, you might want to wait until it's out on DVD.  Or y'know, go and watch From Hell or Sherlock Holmes.

MOVIES LIKE IT: From Hell, Sherlock Holmes, Sleepy Hollow, The Three Musketeers(the new steampunk one), Saw

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: Poe and team are chasing after the killer, and he's about to catch him but Poe drops his gun(in a magnificently strange 3D way) and the killer gets away. He comes back and says that he almost had him but he dropped his gun.  But why doesn't Poe go overly dramatic about not catching him? More than that, why doesn't anyone suspect Poe is the killer or is in cahoots with the killer? C'mon movie, go farther than that.


  1. Despite a handful of narrative missteps and a few errant accents, it's actually a pretty neat "what if?" story. Although I can definitely see it's not for everyone to sit and enjoy. Cusack was also pretty good and definitely lifted up this material. Nice review.