May 21, 2012

Movie on Monday: The Raven
The Raven
Directed by: James McTeigue
Starring: John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson
Running time: 111 minutes
I have a love - hate relationship with biopics. On the one one hand, I'm seriously getting tired of the standard three act stuff in movies like “Ray” and “Walk the Line”: quick rise to fame, drugs, sex and alcohol and then the Pheonix- like rise from the ashes. It’s a tired formula, made distinct only by the performance of the actor who plays the subject. On the other hand there are movies like “The Queen” and “Invictus”, biopics that provide a portrait throough a specific historical event. This is a much more interesting way to go, allowing us to interpret the personalities through their actions and behavior in the given event. We interpret rather than have it told to us. “The Raven”… Oh hell, I don’t know where to put it…

The great author Edgar Allan Poe was found dead on the streets of Baltimore. Aside from being known as a literary genius, he was a notorious drunk and possibly drug addict. His final few days remain a mystery. Nobody knows what exactly caused his death or how he spent those last few days. Well, according to “The Raven”, Poe was in a “Saw” movie…

Intended as a dramatization of Poe’s final days, this movie suggests he was involved in an investigation of a serial killer who uses Poe’s stories as an inspiration for his “modus operandi.” It’s a movie that tries to do two things: dig deep into Poe’s psyche and his genius as a writer, and be a thrilling suspenseful mystery. It fails pretty badly on both accounts, and it also has one of the most inexplicably inept pieces of directing I have EVER seen (more on that in a moment).

John Cusack seemed like the perfect choice to play Poe. Not only is he one of the best actors we have, he’s also extremely articulate and intelligent, two qualities crucial to playing someone as complex as Poe. And while he does give a very good, inspired performance, he is unfortunately let down by the lame screenplay, more interested in portraying Poe as a drunk fool, making a mockery out of himself. And despite the movie's’ attempt to flash Poe’s brilliance through figuring the mystery, there’s no real insight here. There’s no looking ino his literary legacy or what made him tick. In all honesty, this could have any run-of-the mill Holmes-esque character we’ve seen so many times before. The only reason we really know it’s Poe, is because the movie tells us.

The mystery aspect of the movie is even worse. It exists only for cheap thrills and to gross us out with the elaborate ways the killer disposes of his victims. The filmmakers show zero attempt at creativity. The simple feel that copying „Saw“ would do it. We also have a completely bland Inspector in charge character (Luke Evans) who's only purpose is to bark orders when Poe figures out the clues. The resolution of the mystery is completely meaningless. The reaction I had was: „Who the hell is this?“ It has no emotional weight, and the reason why it isn't surprising is because the character is such a nobody.

And now… THE scene. At one point in the movie it’s revealed that the killer will strike at the ball organized by the rich guy whose daughter Poe is in love with. In one moment, Poe is dancing with the girl (Alice Eve), the scene cuts to killer storming in on a horse, there’s chaos, and then… Cut to Poe reading a note from the killer saying he kidnapped the girl. Where is the scene when that happened?! At one point they were dancing, five seconds later she’s already kidnapped?! WTF, movie?!!

Beside John Cusack’s great performance and a great look and atmosphere, “The Raven” is a dud, replacing a possibly cool psychological thriller for cheap theatrics, betraying one of the most important figures in literary history. It didn’t have to be an exact portrait or even factual. But it shouldn’t feel like they’ve taken the name Edgar Allan Poe and just dropped it into a dusty serial killer screenplay.

Poe deserves better, much, much better. So does John Cusack. 

Watch the Trailer: 

About the Author

Vjekoslav Rosandić is a 26-year old movie critic who has already made a name for himself locally, contributing movie reviews for TV and various media outlets in print and online. As of recently he writes editorials for Around the Networks. Vjekoslav holds a Master's degree in English and Philosophy and is currently employed as university librarian. When he's not watching movies, he's reading or hanging out with his fabulous girlfriend.

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