Friday, 6 April 2012

THE RAVEN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Ho-hum procedural squanders Cusack in a role he was otherwise born to play.

The Raven (2012)
dir. James McTeigue
Starring: John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Kevin McNally, Sam Hazeldine


Review By Greg Klymkiw

The idea of the magnificent John Cusack playing the penniless, alcoholic, opium-addicted master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe, is immediately so tantalizing that one is primed for a great night at the movies. That the film invents a grisly series of murders in murky Baltimore to coincide with the great writer's last days and his involvement in solving the mystery, is also not without merit, but is, one would hope, a mere coat hanger for something far more complex and harrowing. However, the mere re-imagining of Poe in the shadow of the recent revisionist Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films is, finally, not so appealing. Any good will inspired via imagined opportunity is squandered on a lame-duck whodunit that would best be suited to a TV crime procedural.

If the film had been blessed with something resembling a screenplay that wasn't derivative and predictable, the picture might have proven to be palatable at the very least. But, no! Borrowing liberally from the Saw movies and Se7en, a series of grisly killings based upon those that occur in Poe's stories rock the seaport city of Baltimore. Poe is briefly considered a suspect, but it doesn't take long before he's working in tandem with the police to solve the mystery and apprehend the killer.


Worst of all, a red herring planted early on is so obvious that it boneheadedly points in the direction of who and why. I can't imagine anyone either being surprised or caring by the time the movie plods to the silly revelation.

If the picture had no other choice than to lazily fall back derivatively on other sources, a more interesting, creepy and suspenseful route might have been to borrow from Hitchcock rather than the aforementioned contemporary titles. Revealing the killer early to both the audience and Poe, then constructing a Strangers on the Train and/or Shadow of a Doubt-styled thriller would have been infinitely more worthy of both Poe and Cusack.

To even pull that off, however, would have required a director instead of the woeful James McTeigue. He's of the fashionable poor-composition-blended-with-too-many-closeups-and-fast-cutting variety to build any genuine suspense and like his overwrought (and basically incompetent) V for Vendetta, he layers on the atmosphere and portent in a paint-by-numbers music video fashion.

The cast, save for the woeful Reese Witherspoon wanna-be Alice Eve as Poe's love interest, struggles valiantly, but to no avail. Cusack suffers least because he seems to be searching for the right movie to be in and occasionally hits a few good notes.

The fancy-schmancy production and costume design is all very efficient, but like far too many movies these days, nothing ever really looks like it's been lived in.

I doubt a franchise will exist in this material, though it might have potential to do so in the world of Netflix and sell-through homevideo. But for now, it's most likely going to be a case of "quoth the raven nevermore."

"The Raven" is currently in wide release from VVS Films.