The Raven (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
Set in 1849, the Baltimore police has a mystery on their hands. As a mother and daughter are gruesomely murdered in their own home, the perpetrator is nowhere to be found despite the fact that the cops can hear the killings in action seconds before they demolish the door. Except for the entrance, there appears to be no other exit other than a window which is nailed shut. Detective Fields (Luke Evans) is assigned to solve the case. Upon closer examination of the room, he realizes something: this murder is exactly like one of the stories published by Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack).
Although the concept of “The Raven,” based on the screenplay by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare, glistens with promise, its potential is mostly hindered by miscast performers and unearned fluctuations in tone that take viewers out of the experience and prevent them from completely buying into the requisite twists and turns of the mystery.
Cusack as Poe is at times a chore to watch. He excels in capturing Poe as a drunk, desperate to get another drop of alcohol from a bartender, because his affliction is given an air of light comedy. However, when the events turn deadly serious as the body count increases, Cusack does not seem conflicted enough as someone who feels indirectly responsible for the twisted killer replicating his art.
Perhaps it has something to do with the romantic angle of the picture. Poe and Emily (Alice Eve) are in love but the two cannot be together out in the open because her father (Brendan Gleeson) despises Poe. While it might have been interesting as a subplot, eventually, however, Emily becomes a pawn in the killer’s game—too predictable, very limp in that a man’s weakness is a woman.
Meanwhile, Evans as the head detective is a bore. He has two reactions: looking quiet, brows furrowed, very determined to solve the case and yelling when things turn for the worse. One may expect that Fields’ lack of sense of humor might somehow complement Poe’s lighter side. They would be wrong.
This is because the screenplay fails to provide scenes in which Poe and Fields relate to one another as passionate people of their chosen professions and, on the most basic level, as human beings. When they are in the same room, it is all about business. The essence of their relationship does not at all seem to permeate through scenes when they are not the focus. In other words, their connection feels limited only in scenes that we see.
Despite a lack of chemistry between an actor and his character in addition to the character’s lack of genuine connection with others, the film looks great. I was surprised that it actually shows us bloody corpses, severed body parts, and at times the actual murder. Its most memorable piece is perhaps the giant scythe swinging like a pendulum which moves closer and closer to a man’s body, threatening to cut him in half. The tunnels underneath the city is also visually striking. The setting is given appropriate lighting and awkward camera angles are employed to induce suspicion in us that something is bound to go wrong.
“The Raven,” directed by James McTeigue, is a prime example of a story, at least on paper, that pulses with enough creativity that it might be considered a good idea to create. But since the actors recruited are not quite fit for the role, when it inevitably hits some bad notes, the discordant elements are all the more amplified.