(Published in The Sunday Guardian on May 20, 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/poe-makes-a-comeback)
Cast: John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Kevin McNally
Director: James McTeigue
Rating: 3 stars
Having pleased the public and disappointed fans of Alan Moore with his V for Vendetta, James McTeigue may have dreamt of bringing Dan Brown’s books alive on the big screen. Sadly for him, he landed The Raven, yet another film on Edgar Allan Poe. So, he decided to do away with the atmosphere of brooding terror and darkness that characterised Poe’s fiction, and bring in high-speed chases (albeit on horses, it’s 1849) and grisly murders instead.
This film isn’t for the faint-hearted, or weak-stomached. Think petrified screams, horrified eyes, slit throats, sewn up lips, dismembered corpses, live burials, and shadowy figures leaping into the frame with glinting knives.
For some reason, the story decides to fictionalise the last days of the writer Poe’s substance-abuse-ridden life, and throw a chick and a raven into it. The chick is Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve), Poe’s one true love, and one shot at perpetual bliss and Absinthe Anonymity. While he’s trying to win brownie points with his future father-in-law Colonel Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson), a serial killer has landed in town.
Detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) is called in to investigate the gruesome murder of a woman and her daughter in Baltimore. Guess what, the double-murder replicates killings described in Poe’s story The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Fields promptly lists Poe (John Cusack) as a suspect. But when another killing occurs in the manner used in his story The Pit and the Pendulum, Fields deduces that Poe’s more of a writer than a doer. So, the suspect becomes an ally, racing to get one step ahead of the murderer.
Naturally, most of this film becomes a thriller, with frenzied hunts for clues to solve puzzles, splendid swishing of costumes, random gunshots, blackmail, threats, and staccato delivery of archaic dialogue. The screenplay includes lines like, “I dare you to try to save your beloved’s life”, the vocabulary and tone of which may well make Poe cringe.
Throw in several red herrings and a ferocious-looking raven, painstakingly inserted into the plot to signify the symbolism of its being the eponymous character of Poe’s poem The Raven. And add John Cusack playing Poe with practically the same body language and facial expressions of Robert Downey Jr. in the Guy Ritchie interpretations of Sherlock Holmes. What you get is a period action drama that unfairly distorts Poe’s life.
The Verdict: If you’re into blood, gore, violence, and not into Edgar Allan Poe, you might have a pretty good time watching this film.