COURTESY OF RELATIVITY MEDIA
The final days of Edgar Allan Poe, the master of macabre, are now immortalized on the silver screen. Poe died on a park bench in Baltimore ranting and raving, which seems like a strangely poignant end to an otherwise tragic but brilliant life. It is also unfortunate that his life should appear to be immortalized in the churlishly made “The Raven.”
As it stands, John Cusack (“2012”) plays Poe as he morosely roams about the streets of Baltimore, poor and despondent with an acute case of alcoholism.
Meanwhile, Detective Fields (Luke Evans, “Immortals”) is on the case of a serial killer as he ravages through victims, mimicking the style of Poe’s stories. For a Poe fan, all the favorites are here: “The Tell-Tale Heart,” The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Pit and The Pendulum;” all are included in the killing spree, albeit rather sheepishly. The film walks the high wire act clumsily between tongue-in-cheek humor and earnest dramatics. But Cusack plays a fairly historically accurate version of Poe.
Poe was a notorious alcoholic and very athletic as a child. He was a man who possessed high artistic temperament and contempt for many of his fellow writers who we now would deem to be great. And he was the only major writer of his time to attend West Point. Cusack’s performance bridges the gap between intelligent fuddy-duddy and a pale-faced ghost as he is co-opted to run about Baltimore with the Detective.
Alice Eve (“She’s Out of My League”), who plays Poe’s love interest, Emily Hamilton, applies the right amount of damsel-in-distress charm as needed to supply the camera with enough glowing shots of wide-eyed splendor. And “Downton Abbey” fans will be happy to find that Brendan Coyle has found a job in Baltimore as Reagan, an angry bartender.
The film, directed by James McTeigue (“V for Vendetta”), has a very telegenic look to it. If it wasn’t for its similarities to the pilot episode of “Castle,” the ABC series in which a suspense writer and a New York cop chase criminals to and fro, the plot would be strangely original.
McTeigue doesn’t seem to know what to do with the televisual look rather than turn the dreary settings into a cheap haunted house look-a-like. Combined with the wildly out-of-place acting, like Luke Evans’ character who seems only to be able to gruffly recite his lines like an angry Baltimorean Batman while screaming “Where is she?!” the film limps on to a weirdly unsatisfying conclusion
Oddly, the film feels as if it lifts from other movies like Ryan Reynolds’ “Buried,” but the film draws its own inspiration from Poe’s stories. Written by Hannah Shakespeare and actor-turned-screenwriter Ben Livingston (“Over Her Dead Body”), the dialogue mixes groan-worthy puns with some anachronistic dialogue, which to the finely-tuned ear will seem dishonest.
The score by Lucas Vidal blandly passes, with out of place instrumentations of wailing electric guitars, for what could have been a grim paintbrush utilized by Danny Elfman to punctuate such a gothic tale.