Edgar Allan Poe has reached the end of his literary and artistic rope — broke, alcoholic, and unable to sell even his literary criticisms any longer. The only hope he has in his life is his beloved, Emily Hamilton, who wants to marry him. When an evil lunatic begins re-enacting his most macabre stories in a series of murders and then abducts Emily, can Poe rise to the challenge, both as an investigator and a writer?
The Raven should really click. Poe was an American literary pioneer of the macabre, and his death was almost as mysterious as his fiction, some of which plays into the film. John Cusack is a capable leading man who gives a credible — if at times over-the-top — performance as Poe, as does Alice Eve as Emily and Brendan Gleeson as Emily’s wealthy father Captain Hamilton, who hates Poe. And yet one leaves the theater thinking that The Raven tries and fails to occupy the same space as Sherlock Holmes in the macabre, perhaps because it tries so hard to succeed.
It’s not a bad film, but it’s not terribly good, either. The resolution of the elaborate mystery doesn’t make a lot of sense in the end, nor do the interactions between some of the characters throughout. Captain Hamilton goes from wanting to kill Poe (and not for entirely incomprehensible reasons) to practically embracing him without the audience given much reason for the transformation over just a day or two. Luke Evans’ portrayal of Detective Fields seems pretty quick to discount the disreputable Poe as a suspect, and Evans himself gives an uncanny Clint Eastwood impersonation through most of the film, and that’s not a compliment. For all of the brain power between Poe and Fields, it never really occurs to either to try to get ahead of the murderer’s plan to leave clues through serial killings — only to dutifully trudge from murder to murder in order to find the clues that will lead to Emily, before she gets killed last.
The Raven does give audiences a medley of Poe’s better-known works, or better put, a brief taste of several. Perhaps it will be enough to convince moviegoers to purchase a Poe collection, or a worthy biography. (One of the victims in the film, with whom Poe had a bitter rivalry, actually outlived Poe in real life and wrote a horribly libelous but popular biography that concocted his supposed drug addictions.) Otherwise, The Raven might work for Cusack fans, but otherwise probably makes a better Netflix choice.
The Raven has an R rating from the MPAA for graphic violence and “grisly images,” according to its IMDB listing. It easily earns that rating. It isn’t appropriate for children or teens, or for adults who get squeamish at such scenes.