Sunday, April 29, 2012

Movie Review: The Raven

The Raven puts me in a bit of a predicament. I want to be cynical and say that it was a terrible movie and not worth your ticket cost, but I will confess my ticket was free so I am not out any money. That being said, there are interesting things going on with The Raven; it is not a horrible movie nor by any means is it a terrific film. While not coming close to James McTeigue's V for Vendetta, the movie does present an interesting hypothetical situation regarding the last days of Edgar Allen Poe. Be prepared for somewhat of a dissection of this film.

One problem with this film is the script. The Raven is the first film screenplay for Ben Livingston, who has mostly been a television character actor, and one of few for Hannah Shakespeare, whose writing prowess does not live up to another famous individual with her last name. I am not going to lie, the script kind of seems like they woke up one morning and said, "I'm going to write a movie screenplay today." The manner of speech tries too hard to fit into the period and the actors  trip up over the 1840s Baltimore dialect. It somehow jumps back and forth from a classical cant to something much more modern. This is largely on the part of Alice Eve whose delivery is mostly flat. John Cusack really looks the part of Poe and plays him as manic and drug-addicted quite well. I think his portrayal of the writer would be much better if the script had been tighter.

 Problems lie additionally with the editing of the film. The Raven is pieced together almost sloppily. This could be due to the way the film was directed, but it lacked fluidity. Honestly, I think that in this way, the actual story was not done justice. It could have been much better if Poe and the Luke Evans' Detective Fields had actually done the sleuthing that I had thought that they would. We mostly see their reactions to the crime scenes from the killer who is imitating Poe's works, with the writer explaining how it may relate to a certain story. Speaking of the stories of Edgar Allen Poe, I felt that they were not incorporated into the plot enough. Yes, there were aspects that were pulled out of his creations, but things did not necessarily make sense. It never felt that there was truly a method to the madness of this copycat criminal. It was neat to be able to spot the elements and name what story it was from, however. (My favorite Poe story is The Cask of Amontialldo, though The Masque of the Red Death falls closely behind.) While we are on the subject of Poe's works, it is my humble opinion that the title of the movie The Raven is quite misleading. The only continuity between the title and the film itself is that there are often shots of ravens seen throughout the movie, though the birds themselves serve no purpose. As far as special effects go, the CGI blood utilized in the murder sequences and crime scene aftermath leaves a lot to be desired.

As I stated before, Cusack embodied Poe quite well and the problem I feel was with the script and not the delivery on his part. The essence of the story, that Poe is living from hand to mouth, dependent on the purchase of his next review, is conveyed well. It is also evident that the only bright spot in his otherwise dismal life comes from his Annabel Lee otherwise known as Emily Hamilton. (I have nothing positive or negative to say about the actress, Alice Eve. She simply existed in the film, adding absolutely nothing crucial to the story. It could have been any actress, and frankly I would have preferred anyone but her.)  Her father, who is none too pleased with Poe's advances toward his daughter is played by the wonderful Brendan Gleeson, who Harry Potter fans will recognize as Mad Eye Moody; I enjoyed his performance immensely. To be the detective who is charged with the task of solving the string of murders based on Poe's works, Fields is downplayed as a minor character; little, if any, is learned about him. That is probably how it should be, as this is a story about Edgar Allen Poe and the introduction of too many characters would muddy the waters. Even still, the story is not advanced enough that much information is uncovered about the writer himself. We are introduced to small glances of his past here and there, but nothing that would help the audience create a complete picture of the troubled scribe. Downton Abbey fans will enjoy a cameo by one of my favorite characters.

Though there are problems with the script, the editing, and the acting (my goodness that does sound like a lot), I appreciate the intent of the filmmakers with this movie. I have been waiting for quite some time for anything resembling a biopic to be made about Edgar Allen Poe, and the speculative nature of this film is interesting. I enjoyed the film's score, in fact it drove the action more than the action itself. The music was appropriately paced, even if the crime-solving was not. I really enjoyed John Cusack, as I tend to do. I also loved the way the film looked, the way the filmmakers seemed to be able to capture 1840s Baltimore. The movie felt the way it should, the film was shrouded in a darkness that conveyed the air of Poe's stories. The set up of Baltimore as a town gripped with unsolved murder and crime helped move that along as well. I am not going to tell anyone to rush to the theater to see this. If you have a dollar cinema in town, wait until it hits the second run, or wait until it hits the Redbox. Your time may not be spent worthlessly, as if you are clever enough, you may be able to deduce who the killer is before the characters. At the very least, it will appeal to your imagination. Fans of Edgar Allen Poe should appreciate the attempt of honoring the legacy of this great American writer. Honestly, I thought it was just as good as Sleepy Hollow and From Hell, which present a similar feeling. If someone wants to produce a retelling of any of Edgar Allen Poe's stories and do them justice, I would see them in a heartbeat.

 3/5 stars

What did you think of The Raven? Let me know in the comments!

This review was featured as The Reviewer's Word on Word of the Nerd Online. Check out the site for more geekiness.

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