Okay, we’re not going to lie to you. The Raven is a pretty bad movie. Leading lady Alice Eve was quoted saying that the screenplay “was the best script that I read last year and I was thrilled to be able to be a part of it.” For her performance in this interview alone, Eve should be presented with some acting award. Unless it turns out that The Raven was the best script she had read that year, in which case she needs to get a new agent.
Here is the premise: John Cusack is Edgar Allan Poe: horror writer, poet and now an alcoholic bum who can’t pay off his bar tab. Somehow, he is betrothed to a Baltimore socialite (Eve) who’s young, beautiful and a fan of his laboured prose, it would seem. Her father (Brendan Gleeson) does not approve of their match on account of his being a man of reason and logic and his daughter’s beau being a penniless drunk with a dangerous level of self regard.
The story really kicks into middle gear, however, when it’s revealed that a serial killer is on the loose. Drawing inspiration from Poe’s ghoulish horror tales, his victims are being murdered in circumstances ripped from the pages Poe’s books. Initially, Poe is the prime suspect but it soon becomes apparent that he’s the only man capable of stopping the murderer before it’s too late. Using his knowledge of his own work, he’s able to track down the clues left by the killer. But really: seeing how popular Poe was at the time, surely anybody familiar with his books could have helped the police just as effectively.
In some ways, it looks like The Raven wants to be something like National Treasure or The Da Vinci Code, taking real-world texts and artworks and using them as clues to a fictional crime/adventure. The script relies heavily on this device without making it much fun. As soon as it is established that the killings are based off the stories, all Cusack contributes to the investigation is constantly identifying references (“A bowline knot – just like in my story!”). But our main problem with The Raven’s central mystery is that we simply never cared who did it. And when all is revealed, we still didn’t care.
Directed by James McTeigue, who helmed the almost-excellent V for Vendetta, The Raven is a ‘thriller’ with so many promising components: Cusack is quite good, the production design is very evocative and McTeigue’s choices seem to reference Silence of the Lambs in more ways than one: the killer sews a clue into one victim’s mouth, keeps another one alive in his basement pit and also dances in front of a mirror with his genitals tucked between his legs (that last bit might not be entirely true). But despite having all these things going for it, the film’s script is laughably poor. The writers seem like they want it to be an intellectual mystery packed with literary allusions, but they also don’t trust audiences to know that Poe was an actual writer. There’s a scene at the beginning where Cusack kicks up a fuss in a tavern, telling everybody that he’s a very famous writer. It’s executed in such a ham-fisted way that he comes across like Ron Burgundy: “I don’t know how to put this but I’m kind of a big deal”.
This is not a good film, but it certainly falls into that category of movie that we love to hate-watch with our friends. Order a pizza, fire up some popcorn and prepare to talk trash at your telly. Then afterwards, rent Grosse Point Blank and remember how Cusack used to be in great movies.