Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Raven (Film Review)

This one is a strange film in many respects because it manages to get oh so many things wrong, and yet it doesn't seem quite bad enough to hate. The core of the story is that in the last days of Edgar Allen Poe’s life, a killer begins to replicate his stories and goes on a spree of murders. In part due to the police wanting an edge against the killer in order to catch him and in part due to the killer’s demands that he be involved, often directly taunting Poe with messages.

Now, all of the above is actually well delivered and has some interesting aspects to it despite initially appearing as if it was trying to replicate Guy Ritche’s Sherlock Holmes films.

Unlike those instalments, there is far less humour in this and the dark subject matter is treated seriously rather than being laughed off or mocked. The most prominent example of this is Poe himself. In something which was a nice development in the early story, he was not being called in to help the police due to some great genius but simply because he’s more familiar with the killer’s methods. You never really see him outdoing the police at their own jobs or running rings about them. He just has a better skill at following the clues left behind by the killer to his next victim – predicting which of his stories will be used next.

This idea that he’s not some skilled detective or deductive genius is helped somewhat by the performance of John Cusack. The script requires him to portray a severely desperate, financially bankrupt, alcoholic and for the most part he achieves this. His mannerisms, speech and expressions do bring the character to life but he frequently goes too far and just ends up chewing the scenery. Meaning that while it makes it clear he's not a genius it's hard to see him as even a person a times.

This is the biggest flaw because director James McTeigue seems to have placed an incredible amount of focus upon Poe and the mystery behind the murders but given time for little else. For example there are no subplots or stories focusing upon the rest of the cast just the murders so they are given very little chance to develop or even flesh out their roles. This even extends to the deuteragonist of detective Emmett Fields whose first scene is to just arrive at the site of the murder. He is given no chance to expand upon his character’s personality in any individual introduction nor through any past history with Poe and despite Luke Evans‘ best efforts he feels like nothing more than a side character. So, despite all the effort each actor besides Cusack is putting into their role, we’re given little reason to truly care what happens to them.

This becomes so much of a problem that when the identity of the murderer is revealed, it has no impact. The character has been given no grounding, nothing to give depth to his murders or even complex motivations behind his thoughts – there is next to no reason for the audience to be invested in them.

In all honesty though, the film isn't so bad it's worth hating. It’s closer to Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow than it is Sherlock Holmes with a very dark atmosphere and some moments of grim humour. Each set piece looks very genuine with a stylistic twist, there are some very good performances by all involved, and the mystery itself is well written despite a botched conclusion. It really needed a better thought out ending and possibly a script which was more inclusive to the characters besides Poe.

It’s worth a look if you’ve already seen John Carter this month, but it’s only worth watching once or twice then never again. And if you’ve not seen John Carter, go watch that instead.


The Raven and all related characters and media are owned by Relativity Media.

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