Thursday, April 26, 2012

Review: "The Raven"

Just a quick review; Nick is handling the main review over at The Film Yap, so make sure to swing over there to get the "official" take.

"The Raven" takes a bold and innovative concept and does a good, not great job of executing it onscreen. It's a fictitious account of poet Edgar Allan Poe's final days, mixing lots of plots and dark imagery from Poe's writing with an entirely modern-feeling whodunit involving a serial killer. The murderer is acting out killings from Poe's own stories, to taunt the writer into pursuing him.

Think "Seven" or "In the Line of Fire," with lots of poetry quotations.

The result is a Gothic thicket of black cloaks, pecking birds with blood on their beaks, R-rated gore and scowling men shouting at each other in Victorian lilt. It's all quite absurd, but certainly engaging, and features John Cusack in one of his best roles in years.

Cusack plays Poe as a mordant, bombastic man frustrated that his amazing talents -- he'll tell you how amazing they are -- have left him penniless and alone at the age of 40. He presents an aura of pure confidence to the rest of the world, but privately he laments "the dark and morbid melancholy that has followed me like a black dog all my life."

If you like that sort of dialogue, you'll get plenty more of it from the screenplay by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare, which piles on the brooding mood with a frenetic plot of twists and turns. Plenty of them don't make much sense, but director James McTeigue ("V is for Vendetta") keeps things tripping along at such a brisk pace the audience won't have time to contemplate the film long enough to spot the holes.

Some other standout lines: His editor (Kevin McNally) says of Poe: "I believe God gave him a spark of genius and then extinguished it in misery." Poe quips that if he'd known his writing would have inspired such a terrible admirer, "I should have devoted more time to eroticism."

A fellow writer and literary adversary of Poe's who is captured by the killer and forced to face the swinging pendulum bellows, "I'm only a critic!!" And as things really get tense, Poe fumes of the killer, "Even his prose is barbaric!"

The mysterious killer abducts Poe's lady love, Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve), whose wealthy father (Brenda Gleeson) is none too happy about the attentions from the fantastically failed writer. The murderer leaves a wake of clues, and bodies, with the requirement that Poe write his version of the story as it's being created and publish it in the Baltimore newspaper where he works itinerantly.

"The Raven" is a semi-smart mashup, undeniably entertaining even as we realize that it is, at its core, entirely goofy.

3 stars

1 comment:

  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 Christopher.