‘The Raven’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 26th, 2014 at 7:40 pm,

The Raven John Cusack The Raven Review

The Raven is just about what most pre-release cynics had been anticipating – a bizarre mishmash of historical elements and subpar on-screen drama.

The titling of director James McTeigue’s Edgar Allan Poe thriller, The Raven, has no doubt confused plenty of would-be moviegoers ever since the film was first announced back in 2009. Instead of a retelling of Poe’s most famous poem, The Raven is actually a fictionalized narrative centered around the final days of the writer’s life – recasting Poe as a reluctant but brave hero that, along with a determined Baltimore detective, attempts to solve a string of grisly murders.

The re-imagined historical figures genre has become a new testing ground for Hollywood, most notably with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter on the horizon (FYI: Edgar Allan Poe makes a guest appearance in the novel), where writers can take household names – and put a new, and in theory more exciting, twist on what would otherwise result in stuffier true-life drama (i.e. Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln biopic). As a result, does McTeigue’s The Raven offer both a fun spin on the last days of Edgar Allan Poe – while also delivering an exciting mystery story?

Unfortunately, the misleading confusing titling of The Raven is hardly the project’s biggest problem – as, despite a mostly competent (albeit sometimes campy) effort from both John Cusack (Poe) and Luke Evans (Detective Fields), the mystery narrative elements, as well as the respective kills, are surprisingly underwhelming. Many expectant moviegoers had been describing McTeigue’s Poe film as Se7en in 19th Century Baltimore but, sadly, The Raven lacks nearly all the aspects that made David Fincher’s serial killer film so captivating – i.e. jaw-dropping reveals, smart twists, and – despite loads of Poe stories to pull from – intriguing murder scenes are all in short supply.

The Raven Luke Evans John Cusack The Raven Review

Edgar Allan Poe and Detective Fields investigate ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’

As mentioned, The Raven follows the final days of Edgar Allan Poe’s life – presenting the tortured author as a self-absorbed and desperate social outcast whose work was still, at the time, mostly under-appreciated. The only glimmer of light in Poe’s impertinent existence is his furtive lover Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve), the daughter of a retired Colonel and rich Baltimore socialite. However, when a brutal serial killer begins to dispatch victims, by recreating famous murders from Poe’s published stories, including “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” as well as “The Pit and the Pendulum,” the author is thrown into a malicious battle of wits – with life and death hanging in the balance.

Given how many of Poe’s “horror” mysteries have remained iconic staples of literary history, it’s shocking how quickly the film glosses over the few kill sequences that are included in The Raven. Only “The Pit and the Pendulum” delivers truly impactful, and grisly, on-screen action – with the rest of the murders rattling off one after another with hardly any build-up and uninspired on-site drama. However, even the “Pendulum” murder is void of compelling aftermath – since Poe (and the audience) is merely given the next “clue” as if it was an afterthought not an integral part of the current scene. Instead of presenting Poe and Fields as actual investigators on the trail of a serial killer (who walk into a room and actually deconstruct the scene) The Raven quickly devolves into watching the two chase after a shadowy murderer without stopping to let the audience enjoy the mystery as it unfolds piece by piece.

While moviegoers were initially skeptical of Cusack in the role of Poe – especially after Jeremy Renner, Ewan McGregor, and Joaquin Phoenix had all been in talks at one point during pre-production – the Being John Malkovich (and 2012) star isn’t ultimately at fault for the film’s shortcomings. At first, Cusack over-does the tortured genius angle and actually makes the Poe “character” pretty unlikable (especially compared to a similar schtick from Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes); however, as the film’s murder plot takes hold, the actor backs off from showcasing his practiced version of Poe and locks into a less ambitious, but more likable, approach – simply reacting to the various in-moment happenings. As a result, while the portrayal is campy and, at times, melodramatic, most audience members will likely be rooting for Poe as the film stumbles into the closing act.

The Raven Alice Eve John Cusack The Raven Review

Alice Eve (Emily Hamilton) and John Cusack (Poe) in ‘The Raven’

Performances from the supporting cast are, similarly, a mixed bag – Eve as well as familiar faces that include Brendan Gleeson and Kevin McNally are competent enough and don’t distract from the core storyline. That said, none of their characters are nuanced or particularly interesting to watch – and only serve as mouths for exposition or goals/obstacles that Poe and Fields are expected to navigate. Only Evans manages to pull any above surface level emotion out of his character (which should be familiar territory for the actor given his solid work in The Immortals – which also featured a cast full of one-note characters). While Fields is still held hostage by the underwhelming story progression and boring scene work in The Raven, Evans emits just enough charisma in the role to successfully keep things going during a number of dialogue heavy scenes that would have otherwise been cause for eye rolling.

Ultimately, The Raven is just about what most pre-release cynics had been anticipating – a bizarre mishmash of historical elements and subpar on-screen drama capped off with an underwhelming but serviceable performance from John Cusack in the leading role. The project fails to impress at nearly every turn and, for a film with such a rich source material, offers very few surprises, intriguing twists, or interesting murder mayhem. While it’s easy to imagine some movie-lovers could enjoy the film when it hits cable, The Raven is never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting, And my soul from out that shadow that lies bored on the floor, Shall be interested – nevermore!

If you’re still on the fence about The Raven, check out the trailer below:

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Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

The Raven is rated R for bloody violence and grisly images. Now playing in theaters.

Our Rating:

1.5 out of 5
(Poor, A Few Good Parts)

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TAGS: the raven

47 Comments

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  1. Ben I just read the star rating … will read it all later but the 1.5 is what I expected from the trailers.

    • Yah, The Raven definitely isn’t likely to exceed many expectations (even low expectations).

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this review, thanks so much. I had a feeling this was going to be a sub par film. Red Box it is!

    • Cheers! Glad it was useful.

  3. Ouch… but expected.
    I think I’ll wait to catch it on TV.

  4. I thought the idea was just too odd. No one would think of Poe as a murder solver potential action guy in real life. Yes I realize we are now getting into your Abe Lincoln Vamp Killer type movies, but this seemed to be serious and yeah, no.

  5. When I first heard of this film (with Cusack starring), I thought it was going to be a great thriller. After seeing the trailer, I was left with the feeling they gave away who the killer was; not saying I know, but the trailer was not what I expected. I think I’ll watch Safe instead.

    • Kahless – I think that’s a ‘safe’ bet. See what I did there?

  6. Does anyone here actually understand Poe had a high fascination with Detective work and wrote many a short story about them?

    • This is actually covered some in the film – but, even if it’s not a stretch that he’d be involved in an actual investigation, it doesn’t mean that this film does a good job with that idea… unfortunately. That’s actually the most disappointing element of The Raven – a lot of missed opportunities.

  7. I don’t understand why they just didn’t adapt “The Poe Shadow” by Matthew Pearl and throw in flashbacks of Poe (since he’s already dead in the novel). It is a great detective story on it’s own and has so much more to offer than “The Raven” appears to have. I’ll have to have a final opinion after I see the movie.

  8. Why did they made Poe a sober detective?

    More comments about Cusack playing Nicolas Cage http://bit.ly/IEqYp0

  9. Why release this type of movie in summer? To me this movie screams October release. The Raven was doomed from the start. I still will look for it at good ‘ol Redbox.

  10. I admit to a sinking feeling about this film
    particularly after the casting of John Cusack
    but the sinking of this ship took more than him.

    With a wealth of quality material to draw
    from there really is no excuse for this kind
    of failure making this film a disappointment.

    Great review. Tough but fair.
    Balanced without prejudice.

    • Thanks Rob. Glad it was useful.

      • It saved me some money too :D

    • Robert, you are one of the most unique posters I’ve ever seen on the internet.

      • Very kind of you to say, Phil. Thank you.

  11. ahhh man, i actually was really excited about this after seeing the trailer. reminded me of sherlock holmes!

  12. From the start I had the feeling the people behind this were trying to make The Raven and Poe into a darker Sherlock Holmes.
    So I wasn’t to excited from the start but I figured I’d rent it at some point. This review has changed my mind and I’ll save the $6 for a rainy day.
    My wallet thanks you Ben. :)

    • No problem! Save your money for a second Avengers screening ;)

  13. This is extremely depressing…Poe is my favorite author.

    Sigh.

  14. Ever notice how generally we think of writers as sitting someplace writing…and not being an action hero? I have the feeling that Poe along with about 99% of writers would be ill equipt to actually have to deal with real situations that suddenly take shape from their stories. But damn that trailer looked promising months ago when I first saw it….

  15. Shocked honestly. I love Poe and am a massive and I mean massive fan of Cusack as an actor. I think he’s one of the best around. Shocked that this would get such poor reviews to me the idea was exciting and the trailer even looked pretty good. Besides despite the odd misstep from time to time Cusack is usually pretty dependable and this looks to be his first genuinely bad film. I’ll still see it. Hope i disagree with all the reviews and can enjoy some Poe and Cusack, but i have a sinking feeling all the reviews will be deserved.

  16. Thanks for the review, Ben. Saved me from yelling at the theater owner: “I want my ten dollars!!”

    • If only the theater owner knew he (or she) dodged that bullet!

  17. I’ve always enjoyed John Cusack’s work and thought this was an interesting idea for a movie. Sad to think it might be quite this bad. An excellent, informative and entertaining review, Ben.

    • Glad it was helpful… and entertaining.

  18. Saw this today! I could hardly stay awake.Guys/Gals,Save your $$$$.

  19. Looks somewhat interesting. I will watch it on Netflix, and if it is good enough, will consider buying the DVD.

  20. I saw this today very good. Very suspenseful think a r rated sherlock holmes. John cusac played a great edgar allen poe

  21. The Ending is the better part of the movie.

  22. I watched the movie and actually really loved it.

  23. Perhaps one thing we can take away from this film, poor though it may be, is that it will inspire those who have heard of Poe but never given his stories any thought, to pick up his books and discover the genius that is/was Edgar Allan Poe.

  24. I’m still curious about seeing this, despite the review. What I would like to see is a series of films based on Poe’s detective Dupin, from Murders in the Rue Morgue. I think that would be a safer bet than casting Poe himself as the detective.

  25. Wannabe Sherlock Holmes. Fail.

    • I will guess you are talking about the films. Poe’s detective stories are absolutely brilliant.

  26. Best review ever

    • Cheers Frank!

  27. My wife and I saw it last nite and was thouroughly entertained.
    The identity of the killer is not deduceable from the trailer above.

    The following is not a spoiler:
    The major niggle I had with the script is where the killer tells Poe about a writer in France that reminds him of Poe-Jules Verene.
    The problem with that is this film takes place in 1849 just 1 year after Verne started writing libretti for operas, now unless the killer saw the few operas that Verne wrote the libretti for this part of the story falls apart.

    Now if the killer had mentioned he Alexander Dumas, this would have been factually accurate as Dumas wrote his 1st fiction piece in 1831 and wrote The D’Artagnan Romances:The Three Musketeers (1844) Twenty Years After (1845) and The Vicomte de Bragelonne-A.K.A.-Ten Years Later [which included The Man in the Iron Mask] (1847).

    Additionally he wrote The Corsican Brothers (1844), The Count of Monte Cristo (1946) and The Two Dianas (1846) all with aspects that lend themselves to the concept of The Raven.

    As I stated above my wife and I had a good time watching this film in the theatre and have no regrets in doing so.

  28. I found the movie to be great! I loved the actor/actresses portrayals of the character. I believe that sometimes when movies are made after text they are overly expected to measure up. I did not go into the movie expecting it to be a “Poe” masterpiece, and my husband and I loved it! It was especially great to watch in digital.

  29. Ben, I’m not going to see this but I’m wondering if I was right about my assumption of who the killer was. By the trailer, it looked like Luke Evans’ character. Please put a spoiler warning if you do post the answer (or e-mail me if you want).