Sometimes, one has to wonder what studios think when they pick up scripts that sound completely, inanely stupid plots. After all, don’t they have people in Hollywood have focus groups and other preventative measures for this kind of thing? And even if Edgar Allen Poe is the choice author for horror fanatics and emo teenagers everywhere, that’s no excuse for dragging his name into a John Cusack movie. But is there a shred of hope in what, by all accounts seems like a lost cause?
Well, let’s find out. This is The Raven.
The basic plot is that in 19th century Maryland, a series of murders are committed, each resembling a murder that takes place in various works of Poe. Poe himself is brought in to attempt to decipher the killer’s motives, find clues, and try to stop anymore from taking place. The movie also attempts to reconcile some of the mysteries surrounding Poe’s final days in Baltimore. Essentially, the plot is a murder mystery which, we all know, ends with Poe dying so the strength of the story had to lie in the middle. Does it pull it off? Yes and no.
The pacing and plot feel a little lost, especially towards the end. They know where to start and where to end, but they’re not entirely sure how and when they’ll be getting from point A to B. The tone is often muddled – somewhere inbetween horror, suspense, and drama. The murders and clues sometimes seem to lead nowhere rather than some faulty connections, and the stories they reference aren’t the most popular ones either, so not everyone will get the reference (though, for the ones I did know, they were done well).
Strangely enough, Cusack is kind of the perfect Poe. Loud, awkward, passionate, brooding, and very strangely charming. I was really worried when I first heard this film was coming out that Cusack was going to be the one to ruin it, but if anything, he saves the film. He has the best delivery of all the actors in the film, he brings such confidence and energy to what could have been a terrible portrayal of one of America’s greatest writers. The romance between him and Emily is so real and touching, it actually feels like a real, loving relationship. Hell, he even has a pet raccoon the movie and Cusack treats it like an actual pet, unlike other actors who would probably want nothing to do with it. This, for me, is Cusack iconic role. Too bad it wasn’t in a better movie.
Subtly is not the name of the game in this movie. I literally called the villain in the first 10 minutes of the film – it might not be the most obvious choice in the world but it should click while you’re watching it. Additionally, two or three scenes before one of the characters is attacked, a maid remarks that said character is “so delightfully full of life.” You know, movie, sometimes it’s okay to mot spoon feed information to your audience. Believe it or not, we like to be surprised. Additionally, everyone is whispering in this movie, to the point where even at full volume, I needed to use subtitles. Why all the soft spoken-ness? Its not like you need to use it to build tension since people are literally dying left and right.
The design of the film is incredible. Not the cinematography, mind you. Some shots look they were meant to be shown in 3D but I can’t find any evidence (though all I did was look on Wikipedia and IMDB) that it was ever shown in that format. That’s not to say that the scenes look bad, it just looks awkward in comparison to the rest of the film. The set design and costume design look great – not over the top like most period pieces but darker and more subdued the historical truth. Not to mention the makeup work on the many corpses throughout the film is amazing and looks disturbingly real.
Overall, The Raven is not a great movie, it might not even be good but it has a dark, melodramatic charm all it’s own. With a better script and cleaner direction, this could have been an iconic film for Cusack. For what it’s worth, if you have a morbid curiosity or just want to see Cusack play with a raccoon, it’s worth sparing a watch. Otherwise, file this one under “Nevermore.”
– Great performance from Cusack.
– Great design.
– Good movie overall.
– Plot and pacing a little off.
– Some cinematography seems weird, as if in 3D.
– Not as subtle as a murder-mystery should be.