05 May 2012

Quothe the raven...

"The Raven"
Director: James McTeigue ("V for Vendetta")
Starring: John Cusack, Luke Evans ("Immortals", "Clash of the Titans"), Alice Eve ("Entourage" TV, "She's Out of My League"), Brendan Gleesen

*** (3.5 stars)

I have been waiting for this movie to come out for what seems like forever. I find myself saying that often about the movies I review and for that I'm sorry. However, when you pair John Cusack (hello, gorgeous) with Edgar Allan Poe (uh... not so gorgeous), every depressed teen's entry into depressive poetry, you know it's going to be a film like no other.

Some suspension of belief is required to truly enjoy this movie, the lack of physical similarities between the lead actor and his real life counter part not withstanding. One must also suspend any knowledge they have of Poe himself. Yes, it is true there is no record of Poe for the three days proceeding his untimely death; but I hardly think he did it in the joie de vivre spirit shown in the film. It's also hard to think of him as a man capable of getting out of the bottle and drugs long enough to have a love life or any real life for that matter. That being said, there are many facts and facets of the movie that come directly from real life and from what is known.

Baltimore, Maryland- 1849. Poe is back in his adopted hometown and desperately poor. His only salvation is the off-limits daughter (Eve) of a well to do businessman (Gleesen). She is is inspiration and the only thing he thinks about more than booze, dope, money, and fame. Soon, grisly murders begin to happen that only the new detective (Evans) can explain- they are based on the work of Poe. He then enlists the help of Poe to try and solve these murders. Who will guess the killer first, the audience or the detectives?

What surprised me most was how bloody this film was. Thinking back on it I can't imagine why I was surprised, but I was. I guess it's just been a while since I've seen a person cut in half or disfigured outside a "torture-porn" or more traditional horror flick. The FX by Szilvia Paros ("Pillars of the Earth" TV, "Hellboy") are well done and support cinematographer Danny Ruhlmann's ("In a Savage Land", "Little Fish") epic shots.

Cusack toes the line between curmudgeon and scholar well, though it takes a while to warm to some of his acting choices. Eve really shines in a scene that finds her playing out "The Tell-Tale Heart" (not a spoiler, it's the clip she's been showing on appearances). I hope Evans makes more pictures that require acting and clothing (not that I mind him being half naked in the least). His weathered face reminds one of Daniel Craig and he has the potential for the same silent glances heavily weighted in meaning as well.

The only downfall to "The Raven", and responsible for the 3.5 rating instead of 4, is the somewhat disjointed storytelling. It is as if the film didn't know how to start itself or how to end. The middle, the investigation of the crimes, is well executed. Each murder points a finger towards the next and Evans and Cusack make a great team in trying to decipher them. Without giving too much away, the revelation of the killer was a bit of a downer as well. The obligatory confession that even villians not in a James Bond film must give felt like an after-thought.

Fans of the actors, subject, or genre will appreciate this film; though I'm not sure it needs to be seen in the theatre. Rental will allow what I hope to be good special features beyond the usual making of. A featurette linking characters in the film with their real life counterparts would play well. As would one exploring the many theories surrounding Poe's death.