John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe. Publicity still.
The Raven is a fictionalised account of the last days of American gothic writer Edgar Allan Poe, who was found roaming the streets of Baltimore just before his death in 1849. It’s directed by James McTeigue, and written by Hannah Shakespeare and Ben Livingston. It stars John Cusack as Poe, whose career is flatlining. When a serial killer starts renenacting the plots of some of his stories he dares Poe to catch him. in tandem with a police detective (Luke Evans) he tries to track down the killer, who kidnaps Poe’s lover, played by Alice Eve.
Not half bad? Cusack is “wittily cast,” said Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. There’s a “bit of Saw and Se7en here.” Though it “runs out of steam … there’s some gruesome drama and Cusack is on decent form.”
Really bad. Robbie Collins in The Daily Telegraph was not impressed. Poe’s “acidic wit and flair for brevity” are in “perilously short supply in this torpid, rackety whodunit.” John Cusack acts Poe in “a manner that suggested he had nothing better to do.” McTeigue’s “previous films, Ninja Assassin and V for Vendetta, were bad enough.” But he doesn’t have a clue about Poe. The murders are “gross-out stunts”, the bloo dis “computer-generated”, and there’s even a “heavy metal soundtrack and enthusiastic use of a smoke machine.”
Chucking crows! Poe in this film is “mostly inebriated, borderline destitute and an almighty pain in the rear,” said Wendy Ide in The Times. McTeigue thinks “that periodically chucking a crow at the camera” is enough “to create a Poe-ish atmosphere.” But this just buries the film in “manufactured tension.”
A good idea. But in the end… It’s a terrific idea, said Jonathan Romney in The Independent. Imagine if other literary greats were sleuths: “Emily Dickinson Investigates!” Poe’s more suited to the job, though. The murders Poe’s asked to investigate should be “a doddle for him, as they are inspired by his own stories.” His deduction goes like this: “The killer leaves behind a mask. ‘Mask? Mask?’ muses Poe… ‘Surely an allusion to The Masque of the Red Death!’” The screenplay is good, with “much ripe dialogue”, and with Poe as a “manic proto-hipster.” But the rest is just “routine.” And you “won’t care a jot about the solution to the mystery.”