RAVEN is a mess of a movie. An infuriating mix of amateurish writing and flowery antique speech; of sublime romance and hopeless pedantry; of atmospheric melancholy and risible smugness; of pointless melodrama and a movingly poignant performance by John Cusack as the damned soul, Edgar Allen Poe.
The premise is Poe’s mysterious last few days on the planet, during which it is posited, he engaged in a battle of wits with a serial killer who bases his gruesome murders on Poe’s tales. Quickly dismissed as a suspect by the stolid police inspector (Luke Evans) tasked with solving the crimes, he is instead brought in as a special consultant. Much to the chagrin of Captain Hamilton (Brenden Gleeson), the gun-wielding father of Poe’s beloved, Emily (Alice Eve), when they are drawn into the killers machinations.
The single biggest problem here is that Poe’s actual life was far more compelling than anything brought forth in this flick. Tension, mystery, tragedy, horror are so little in evidence that they are negligible elements in an effort that spent a great deal of money on sets and costumes. For every tiny moment of pleasure, such as when Poe calls someone a mental oyster, or spews his creative vitriol casting aspersions on perceived rivals such as Longfellow, there are broad swaths of acute boredom unrelieved by the singularly uninspired interpretations of Poe’s more grisly tableaux, and a dogged persistence in the use of the eponymous image as a symbol of some sort, a persistence that leads nowhere except annoyance with the writers inability to use the subject of Poes most famous poem to better purpose.
The other problem is that it starts so promisingly with Poe stumbling into a dive and quipping his way through an attempt to cajole more credit out of a resolutely unsympathetic barkeep. Cusack is a paragon of dissolute charisma, in this and many other moments. His Poe is an alcoholic, opium-addicted genius, soberly free of any illusions about his state. Yet when he pitches a terrifically carnal sort of woo at Emily, he is the soul of romance that is entirely free of irony when he declares his desire to dance with her through eternity.
And eternity is, alas, exactly what THE RAVEN feels like, and not in a good way.