James McTiegue’s film does not live up to its fantastic premise. The Raven is not a terrible movie, but merely a disappointing one.
In 1849, writer Edgar Allan Poe is drinking frequently and poor, on account of not having had any work published for a while. When some grisly murders are committed, police detective Emmett Fields realises that the crimes have been based on the works of Poe. Fields enlists the writer to help with his investigation…
The Raven proposes such a great idea for a film, one that really plays into Poe’s talent for the macabre. All the right elements are there; murder mystery, the works of Poe and the always watchable John Cusack. Nevertheless, some lacklustre writing and direction lets the film down.
The screenplay does not make the most of Poe’s work, despite a strong start. The writer’s stories seem to get lost in the overarching rescue mission, which is less convincing. It is a shame that the film took this route, as The Raven would have been far more interesting if it maintained the more straightforward train of Poe being drafted in to help catch a killer emulating his stories. Changes made to Poe’s history are fine, given that this is a work of pure fiction. However, as a fictional character, Poe changes too dramatically over the course of the duration. The ending, with the reveal of the culprit and Poe’s handling of this, is just diabolical.
McTiegue’s direction fails to deliver. The tone is wrong, with the film starting off a bit campy, but then trying to get serious. The romantic aspect of the narrative also lets the film down. More emphasis should have been placed on wits and intrigue. The final third is action-heavy, again taking the idea too far away from what originally was presented. The Raven fails to deliver tension when it is really needed. Notwithstanding, the pendulum sequence is well executed. Remarks about critics, however, are unlikely to have gone down too well with film critics, as they seem to be quite an overt dig.
Performances in The Raven are patchy. Cusack does a decent job as Poe, although he is more effective when hamming up the character in the earlier scenes. Alice Eve is less convincing, as is Luke Evans later on in the film. Special effects are good, but the overall art direction of sets seem inauthentic. Greater use of lighting would have worked better, especially given the macabre themes of the film.
The Raven does entertain, but is simply not as satisfying as it should have been. If the film directs viewers back to the works of Poe, then at least is serves a good purpose.