Film review: The Raven never takes flight

By Matthew Parkinson

Dull, lifeless and tedious are not words that many use to describe the writing of Edgar Allan Poe, the famous poet known for dark works such as “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.” However, those words are quite apt to describe James McTeigue’s The Raven, a film that takes the troubled author and turns him into a Sherlock Holmes for mid-19th century Baltimore. Poe (portrayed admirably by John Cusack) is tasked with helping the police hunt down a man who is using Poe’s poems as inspiration for a series of grisly murders. After the love of Poe’s life, Emily (a wooden Alice Eve), is captured, Poe has to solve the mystery behind the clues found on bodies the killer leaves behind.

At least, that’s what the filmmakers want you to experience. In reality, Poe stumbles from body to body, pulling solutions out of thin air using no logic or deductive skills in order to figure out the clues. Most of the time it’s the police inspector, Emmett Fields (Luke Evans), who figures out exactly what to do. Poe is more along for the ride than anything else, even though the film is supposedly about him. He’s secondary to the generic murder-mystery plot and, as a result, his character is lost in the shuffle. If you’re going into The Raven hoping to learn something about the poet, you’ll leave disappointed.

The same can be said if you’re hoping for a competent or engaging thriller, as you won’t find one here. It takes a very long time for The Raven to get into the crux of the story, at first depicting Poe as an angry and broke alcoholic, then as the star-crossed object of Emily’s desire before he finally becomes the film’s hero. This might sound like a lot of character progression, but there isn’t a real transition from one to the next — Poe awkwardly becomes a slightly different person after each scene ends. You watch the man change his tune every few minutes for no discernable reason, his development completely unrelated to the events that are transpiring around him.

The inconsistancies also hold true for the murder-mystery, as there isn’t a clear progression from one clue to the next, or one murder to the next. The stakes never seem to get very high either, especially since Poe accepts right off the bat that his girlfriend is probably dead. He doesn’t seem terribly upset by this, so why should the audience be? When the police discover a murder with a tangential reference to one of Poe’s works, Poe seems more interested in finding another victim than actually finding out where Emily is. The only character who genuinely seems upset by her disappearance is her father (the always reliable Brendan Gleeson), who is also the only character to follow any kind of dramatic arc. Everyone else is stagnant or changes for no reason, leading to a lot of boring character moments whenever they decide to take a break from moving from point A to point B in search of more dead bodies.

Yet by far the worst part of The Raven is its complete joylessness. While Poe’s stories were dark, there were always a few points when you would smile when reading them. There is maybe one entertaining moment within the entire film, and it comes from a secondary character whose only purpose is to eventually be killed. This material is silly, and it becomes clear to the audience that it’s ripe for mockery. There’s even a moment in the film where Poe relays to the audience that he feels like he’s a character trapped in one of his stories. But everything is played as completely straight and serious as possible. There’s no joy to be had anywhere in the movie, and it feels like a chore to sit through.

The Raven is a terrible effort of a thriller that won’t excite, engage or enlighten you about its star poet, Edgar Allan Poe. It’s a dull, cliched film that doesn’t push any buttons, doesn’t understand how silly it ultimately is and misses opportunities left and right to be clever or unique. It falls short on every level and is the complete opposite of Poe’s stories: boring.

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