The Raven

Positing that Poe spent the last five days of his life in 1849 helping the police to hunt down a serial killer in Baltimore, "The Raven" is a squawking, silly picture that never takes flight.

Edgar Allan Poe - John Cusack
Det. Fields - Luke Evans
Emily Hamilton - Alice Eve
Col. Charles Hamilton - Brendan Gleeson
John Cantrell - Oliver Jackson-Cohen
Henry Maddox - Kevin McNally
Ivan - Sam Hazeldine
Griswold - John Warnaby

Positing that Poe spent the last five days of his life in 1849 helping the police to hunt down a serial killer in Baltimore, “The Raven” is a squawking, silly picture that never takes flight. In the spirit of upcoming historical fantasy “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” helmer James McTeigue’s pic would have been more fun if it were called “Edgar Allan Poe: Drunk Poet Detective,” but that would have implied more entertainment value than this dreary exercise delivers. Leads John Cusack and Luke Evans might generate a little B.O. traction, but it will quickly fade, like a dream within a dream.

Plucking some easily researchable biographical details about Poe, the script by actor-turned-scribe Ben Livingston and Ron Bass protege Hannah Shakespeare constructs an implausible explanation of what happened to the author before he was found on a park bench, raving incoherently about someone named Reynolds, on the last day of his life. Given his notorious dipsomaniac habits and penchant for opium, as well as theories that he had syphilis (a fact the screenplay unsurprisingly doesn’t explore), it’s probable the real Poe simply died from partying too heartily. Not the most cinematic or original story, but then, the standard-issue serial-killer cliches offered up here aren’t much more interesting.

When the police discover two dead femmes in a locked room, Det. Emmett Fields (the ubiquitous Luke Evans) works out that the killer must have made his escape through a locked window with a hidden spring — just like the assailant in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” a story by local writer-cum-lush Poe (Cusack). At first making the remarkably stupid assumption that Poe must therefore be the killer, Fields eventually concludes the culprit is someone obsessively conversant with Poe’s fiction and poetry, especially when the author’s archrival, critic Griswold (John Warnaby), turns up dead, sliced in two by pendulum-operated axe. (His desperate cry before he dies, “But I’m only a critic!” may rep the pic’s sole funny line.)

The two are forced to work together when Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve), a young heiress to whom Poe has become secretly engaged, is kidnapped at a masked ball held by her father, Col. Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson). Poe and Fields must ponder clues planted on yet more corpses in order to deduce where Emily has been hidden; in a “Misery”-style twist, the psychotic fan insists that Poe write up his detective work as an ongoing narrative, to be printed each day in the local paper run by editor Henry Maddox (“Pirates of the Caribbean” regular Kevin McNally, forever playing men with muttonchops).

Anachronistic dialogue like “Shut it, Emily, or I’ll shut it for you” suggests historical verisimilitude isn’t a top priority here, but even so, “The Raven” plays fast and loose with period detail, as when a newspaper headline screams about a “serial killer,” never mind that the term wasn’t coined until nearly 130 years later. Cusack, whose wrinkle-free face looks far too plumped up and healthy to pass for that of a raging alcoholic, tries project erratic temper by shouting a lot and bugging out his eyes, but the script doesn’t feed him a single line that might suggest Poe’s genius, complexity or vaunted verbal dexterity. The completely fictitious characters aren’t saddled with such a heavy burden of history, but they’re never more than stock types. Only Sam Hazeldine impresses with a juicy turn that’s due as much to the way he’s lit as to his actorly skill.

Locations in Serbia and Hungary are passably convincing, although the visual effects used to depict a Parisian street scene at the very end are nearly as awkward as the epilogue itself, while the abrasive rock music over the “Seven”-style end titles proves jarring. At least the costumes are fab, especially the elaborate duds worn in the ball scene, featuring feathered headdresses and intricate masks that would look great on an Alexander McQueen catwalk.

The Raven


Production: An NBC Universal (in U.K.)/Relativity Media (in U.S.) release of an Intrepid Pictures presentation in association with Galavis Film of an Intrepid Pictures, FilmNation production, in association with Endgame Entertainment. (International sales: FilmNation, Beverly Hills.) Produced by Aaron Ryder, Marc D. Evans, Trevor Macy. Executive producers, Glen Basner, Jesus Martinez Asencio, James D. Stern. Co-producers, Richard Sharkey. Directed by James McTeigue. Screenplay, Hannah Shakespeare, Ben Livingston.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor), Danny Ruhlmann; editor, Niven Howie; music, Lucas Vidal; production designer, Roger Ford; supervising art directors, Paul Laugier, Frank Walsh; set decorator, Kerrie Brown; costume designer, Carlo Poggioli; sound (STS/SDDS/Dolby Digital), John Rodda; supervising sound editor, Eric Warren Lindemann; re-recording mixers, John Ross, Gary C. Bourgeois; special effects supervisor, Paul Stephenson; visual effects supervisor, Marcus Hingborg, Jan Stoltz; visual effects, Filmgate, Trixter, Molinare; stunt coordinators, Bela Unger, Slavisa Ivanovic; line producer, Andjelka Vlaisavljevic; associate producer, Carolyn Harris; assistant director, Gerry Gavigan; second unit director, Shaun O'Dell; second unit camera, O'Dell; casting, Lucinda Syson, Elaine Grainger. Reviewed at Odeon Norwich, Norwich, U.K., March 9, 2012. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 111 MIN.

With: Edgar Allan Poe - John Cusack
Det. Fields - Luke Evans
Emily Hamilton - Alice Eve
Col. Charles Hamilton - Brendan Gleeson
John Cantrell - Oliver Jackson-Cohen
Henry Maddox - Kevin McNally
Ivan - Sam Hazeldine
Griswold - John Warnaby(English dialogue)

More Film

  • Tokyo Director-in-Focus-at-Japan-Now

    Nobuhiko Obayashi set as Japanese Director in Focus at Tokyo Film Festival

    Indie director, Nobuhiko Obayashi will be feted as the director in focus at the Japan Now section of this year’s Tokyo International Film Festival. The festival will give a world premiere to his “Labyrinth of Cinema.” Supporting his art by shooting commercials, Obayashi is an indie whose dreamy works have influenced numerous other directors in [...]

  • Jimmi Simpson Joins Russell Crowe Movie

    Jimmi Simpson Joins Russell Crowe Thriller 'Unhinged' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jimmi Simpson will play a key role in “Unhinged,” Variety has learned. He joins an impressive cast that includes Oscar-winner Russell Crowe and Caren Pistorius. Solstice Studios is producing the psychological thriller, which is currently filming in New Orleans. “Unhinged” centers on a woman named Rachel (Pistorius), who leans on her horn at the wrong [...]

  • David Crosby

    David Crosby Says New Documentary 'Remember My Name' Is Like 'Being Naked in Public’

    “It’s not easy. It’s hard being naked in public,” David Crosby, the legendary troubadour of classic rock, reflected at Tuesday night’s New York City premiere of “David Crosby: Remember My Name.” “I don’t know what to do here. There’s no guitars, no drums,” he laughed. Directed by newcomer A.J. Eaton and produced by the legendary [...]

  • Javier Bardem Dune

    Javier Bardem in Talks to Play King Triton in Disney's 'Little Mermaid'

    Javier Bardem is in talks to play King Triton in Disney’s live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid.” Halle Bailey will portray the Ariel, a mermaid princess who dreams of being a human, while Melissa McCarthy is playing her evil aunt Ursula. Harry Styles is also in early talks to play Prince Eric. “The Little Mermaid” [...]

  • UglyDolls

    STX Tries to Put Flops Behind It as It Searches for Star Executive, Fresh Capital

    After a series of film flops and an aborted initial public offering, STX Entertainment is battling mounting skepticism that it can survive in an increasingly unforgiving movie business. As it hustles to find $500 million in fresh capital, the company, which operates in the red according to financial disclosures, is simultaneously hoping to attract a [...]

  • Ryan Simpkins

    Ryan Simpkins Joins Fox-Disney's 'Fear Street' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Ryan Simpkins has joined Fox-Disney’s second installment of 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment’s “Fear Street” trilogy, based on the novels by R.L. Stine. Leigh Janiak is helming all three films. Previously announced cast includes Gillian Jacobs, Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, McCabe Slye, Kiana Madeira, Olivia Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Ashley Zukerman, Fred Hechinger, Julia [...]

  • MPAA Logo

    Motion Picture Association of America Hires Emily Lenzner as Communications Chief

    The Motion Picture Association of America has appointed veteran public relations executive Emily Lenzner as its executive VP of global communications and public affairs. She will report to Chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin and oversee the trade group’s communications team in the U.S. and internationally. Lenzner will start Aug. 1 and be based at the MPAA’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content