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May 18, 2012


Capsule Movie Review – The Raven (2012)


Edgar Allan Poe died in Baltimore in 1849. Cause of death: unknown. He had been found on the streets, near death and delirious.

Those are the biographical facts. It’s also the gist of the introductory title card of The Raven, a thriller set in the penurious genius’ obscure last days. When I saw the trailer I feared the dreaded “mystery appropriating a dead celebrity” (Eleanor Roosevelt, Super Sleuth! Jane Austen, Lady Detective!). It is partly that, but the greater part is literary game. The story conceit is that Edgar Allan Poe is forced to act in the guise of a character in his own stories by a madman who enacts the fictional killings with unlucky bystanders cast as victims. The script safely assumes* a basic audience familiarity with Poe and his work, contenting itself with a concise character introduction and name-checking the famous stories- The Cask of Amontillado, The Masque of the Red Death, The Tell-Tale Heart et al.- as a memory jog for those who’ve been out of school long enough to need the reminder. However, the more you know, the more entertaining the film. Playing out on the surface as a fairly ordinary serial killer mystery with a literary-horror veneer, it’s more rewarding taken as homage. John Cusack is well-cast as Poe and the supporting cast is mostly fine, led by Luke Evans as the methodical, sensible Baltimore detective in charge of the case- an implicit connection with Poe’s groundbreaking detective fiction. The notable and significant exception is Alice Eve as Poe’s beloved, a character as much a fiction as the killer who forces the author’s participation in his twisted scheme by using her as bait. Eve’s performance and the love affair that provides Poe’s motivation are wholly unconvincing.

3 stars

One thing I liked and one thing I didn’t like: I don’t know if sailors waiting to ship out really made a little extra money working as stagehands in “the backstage rigging,” but I love the idea. Eve’s reading of “Annabel Lee”.

*Thanks no doubt in large part to their brevity, his poems and stories are a staple of those anthologies assigned in high school English classes.

Edgar Allan Poe, c. 1849

John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe in "The Raven"


4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Doc
    May 18 2012

    Poe founded many of the genres of modern popular fiction, and part of the fun of the film is watching the screenwriter twine them into the plot. The rational detective is particularly well done.

    The supporting cast contains some fine performances. Brendan Gleeson as the protective father is especially good.

    Poe as a literary critic demanded that stories adhere to their own internal logic. He would give this one high marks.

  2. May 18 2012

    I watched the trailer and I don’t like that Cusack doesn’t use a Virginian accent. But maybe he does, I haven’t watched the final product.

  3. May 18 2012

    @Doc: Speaking of literary critics, I learned in reading the Wikipedia entry on Poe that the critic victim in the movie is modeled on Poe’s fiercest detractor, who did everything he could to destroy his rival’s reputation posthumously including forging unflattering letters. A nice bit of literary revenge by one of today’s admirers.

    @Nir: Cusack talks like he normally does. With all the places Poe lived in his life, who knows what kind of accent he had when he died.

  4. May 18 2012

    @Helen, that true. :O)

    For the record, since I was a teen Poe’s been my favourite author and he still is. :O)