Thursday, April 26, 2012

Review of THE RAVEN (2012)


- Rated R for bloody violence and grisly images.
- Starring John Cusack, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Luke Evans
- Written by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare
- Directed by James McTeigue
- Running time: 1hr 50min

This isn't some historically accurate bio-pic on Edgar Allen Poe.  This is a "what if" flick.  "What if" Poe (John Cusack) had an adventure where his girlfriend (Alive Eve) is kidnapped (and buried alive) by a serial killer who is a huge fan of the author, performing grisly killings straight out of his books?  Along the way Poe teams up with a detective (Luke Evans), and the two track down the mysterious man. 

It's certainly a "Neat-O" idea.  I often like these kind of "what if"films.  The premise works most of the time.  The pre-title murder sequence is done in a traditional Gothic horror style (not unlike SLEEPY HOLLOW).  McTeigue, who's first film V FOR VENDETTA was impressive (his second, NINJA ASSASSIN was not) has made a great looking movie, with dark, crisp direction.  The murders are blunt and gruesome.  Nothing is watered down here, especially the "pit and the pendulum" sequence.  Yuck!

I would say the first two-thirds of the story are compelling, but once we get into the third act is when it develops some problems.  The killer is kept a secret, which makes the revealing all the more underwhelming.  And of course he has a five minute monologue explaining why he murdered everyone.  It stops the movie dead in it's track.  Once it gets to this point, the film never fully recovers, as it sludges it's way to an unsatisfactory ending. 

The bigger problem is the casting of John Cusack as Poe.  He's a very talented actor.  I loved him in BETTER OFF DEAD and BEING JOHN MALKOVICH.  But he's very much miscast here.  It's not that he's doing a bad job, he's just wrong for the part in almost every way.  He speaks in a very theatrical way, and it's just not very convincing.  And I couldn't tell if he had a mild British accent or if he was even trying at all.  He was about as believable as Matthew Broderick would be as Abraham Lincoln.  Also, the writers attempt to make him a sort of quirky, offbeat character (like Depp's Ichabod Crane), as he spouts off witty comebacks.  Cusack, despite a gallant effort, can't pull it off.  The rest of the cast is fine, especially Alice Eve as Poe's fiancee' (who looks like she was born to wear a corset... mmmm) and Brendan Gleeson as her disapproving father. 

Like I said before, McTeigue did a great job visually directing the picture.  Fans of Gothic horror will probably find a lot to like here.  And I'm sure there will be plenty of folks who will be able to tolerate Cusack's miscasting, and forgive the weak ending.  But for me, it didn't all come together.

** (out of ****)

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