If an Edgar Allan Poe poem gets you excited, you can go see The Raven to calm yourself down. Here is a film that takes the poet, turns him into a Sherlock Holmes of sorts, and then gives him absolutely nothing to do. Even when looking for clues, the character is more along for the ride than actually directly involved. The famous poet is portrayed not as a hero, but as someone who happens to stumble upon things that lead to other things, with the steady hand of the law at his side, doing most of the real work.
Unfortauntely, it’s also extremely boring. This story could work if the characters were interesting and carried the film more than the plot, or if the police squad wasn’t also bumbling around, hoping to discover something important, but since neither of those things happens, this film is more dull than listening to someone recite Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” for the 100th time in a single sitting. Don’t ask exactly how I know that, but imagine listening to the same thing over and over again and you’ll think of something close to the experience of sitting through The Raven once.
The film stars John Cusack as Poe, Luke Evans as the main Police Inspector, Alice Eve as the love interest, and Brendan Gleeson as the love interest’s father. I only wish that the character names were actually what I just listed, as it would have injected some much-needed humor into our movie. No such luck, I’m afraid. Anyway, there’s a killer on the loose who is using Poe’s poetry and short stories as a basis for the murders. A man is cut with a pendulum, the killer escapes through a window with a hidden lock, and so on. Poe, with his unique expertise, is brought in to help the police investigate.
The stakes only get raised once the love of his life is captured, giving us a time limit and also giving us an emotional attachment. Or it would, if the film handled it with any sense of decency. Instead of getting upset about the capture, Poe’s first thought is to accept that she’s dead and give up hope. That’s not exactly the best way to endear yourself to us, Mr. Poet. If you don’t care whether or not the love of your life is still alive, why should we? Almost as importantly, why should we care about you if you’re such a heartless person?
Most of the film moves in a straightforward manner, meaning that characters will go from one place to another, finding a dead body at each newly discovered locale, tangentially connecting something on the body to the location of the next one, and moving on again. You can’t criticize the film for not at least always having its characters on the move, but considering they don’t do a whole lot except discover a dead body and be told where to go next, it can be said that it’s repetitive.
This would be okay if the characters actually had to figure the clues out in order to discover the next one, but most of them are just guesses that they go on knowing that they’re going to be right because they’re in a movie. Other times, the clue is so blatant that there’s no need for a “brilliant” mind like Poe’s to help figure them out. There are also points when the killer just tells them because they’re not smart enough to figure it out for themselves.
There’s nothing thrilling about The Raven, and for a thriller, that’s a pretty big problem. None of the situations are any different from your typical murder-mystery, and because — despite what the film seems to want — the stakes are so low, nothing matters. You turn to the characters to pull you through a weak plot, and they can’t do so. Poe does develop, but not in any logical or consistent way, gaining and discarding personality traits whenever it’s convenient for the filmmakers. The Police Inspector is the same grizzled and determined man from start to finish, and the love interest is locked away in a box for most of her time.
The only real development comes from Brendan Gleeson’s character, in which he begins the film hating Edgar Allan Poe and finishes it tolerating him. You can see that there are really high expectations here. When a secondary character who maybe gets five or six scenes in the entire film, disappearing for long stretches for seemingly no reason, gets the most character development, you know something has gone wrong. In the case of The Raven, a whole lot was in that category.
Is there anything about this film that actually works? Well, I thought John Cusack was fine despite being given absolutely nothing to do. There are a few references to works of Poe that fans of his might giggle with glee at when mentioned. And … no, that’s really just about it. It’s a mediocre-at-best murder-mystery film and so much of it is boring, uninteresting and cliché that it becomes a chore to sit through. This is a two hour film that feels like it’s four.
The Raven is an awful film. Almost nothing works, from the uninspired plot, static and one-dimensional characters, a lack of actual intrigue in regards to the murders, and a complete lack of desire to use the main character for anything other than as a bystander. This is a boring thriller that sheds no light on Edgar Allan Poe, and will just make his fans shake their head in frustration. It’ll do that with non-fans, too, and will make you want to be a character in one of his stories by the time it concludes.