The Raven is John Cusack’s first mainstream release since 2010’s Hot Tub Time Machine and he hasn’t lost his trademark style that endeared him to a legion of fans as far back as 1989’s Say Anything.
When you think about what are now deemed “classic writers” it’s often hard to imagine them as anything but stuffy old men who spent their time in libraries conversing over the correct use of the comma. Edgar Allan Poe was no such man. He dropped out of college as a result of gambling debts, joined the army and purposely got court-martialed so he could pursue his poetry, only to end up an alcoholic after his 13-year-old cousin – who happened to be his wife – died of consumption. And to top it all off he died under mysterious circumstances. So this is the man Cusack must bring to the screen for all to appreciate, a troubled soul who pretty much invented detective fiction and was one of the earliest writers of sci-fi.
Thankfully he’s just the man for the job giving believability with the right amount of crazy on the side. He is essentially playing the character he loves to return to; a twitchy, wry, sometimes awkward, incredibly persistent fool for love. Just look at his back catalogue, High Fidelity ’00 , Grosse Point Blank ’97, and Say Anything ’89 to name a few. For me these are the stand-out roles in his acting career, it’s what he does best and he slips seamlessly into them meaning the audience doesn’t question him for a second.
The Raven weaves fact and fiction neatly together to give a well-rounded film that doesn’t seem that unrealistic. A serial killer is on the lose in Baltimore and Detective Fields (Luke Evans) notices a certain familiarity with the murders – they’re all inspired by the macabre stories of Edgar Allan Poe. So who better than the man himself to solve the diabolical deeds. The buddy cop element between Cusack and Evans works well and there is enough misdirection to keep it interesting, but the hardened crime enthusiasts will have it all figured out quick enough.
Alice Eve plays Emily, the object of Poe’s affection. The chemistry between the two is brilliant, which isn’t hard to imagine as no-one plays the besotted boy better than Cusack. Brendan Gleeson puts in a turn as Emily’s father, although it’s the typical angry, disapproving father role, he manages to give it his own stamp of gruff. Evans’ voice does wander into Christian Bale Batman territory at times and you can’t help wonder if he’s also channelling Baltimore’s finest – McNulty from The Wire. The director James McTeigue is on safe enough territory having sunk his teeth in gothic elements before with V for Vendetta.
Thankfully the film hasn’t gone kid friendly and wears its 16 cert proudly, not shying away from some particularly gruesome shots and choice language. It does suffer from the fact that there isn’t much original material here but we mustn’t forget that Poe started all this with Arthur Conan Doyle and HG Wells being heavily influenced by him.
So an enjoyable tale on many levels worthy of an hour or two of your time.
USA / Directed By: James McTeigue / Written By: Ben Livingston, Hannah Shakespeare / Starring: John Cusack, Alice Eve, Luke Evans, Brendan Gleeson / 111min / Horror, Crime / Release: 9 March 2012 (UK/Irl), 27 April 2012 (US/Canada)