The last few days of Edgar Allan Poe’s life are fictionalised as he attempts to woo his love against her father’s wishes, make ends meet by selling reviews when faced with writers’ block, and assist a Baltimore police detective in the hunt for a killer who is re-enacting Poe’s most famous stories.
The Raven is a film with an identity crisis. On the one hand, it has John Cusack delivering an excellent portrayal of Edgar Allan Poe. He seems to be acting in a biopic, and I would love to see that film, but unfortunately Cusack is the only person who is aware of what he is doing. Everyone else is over on the other hand in a camp and schlocky whodunit. Many nods to Poe’s stories are wedged into the narrative, but very few with elegance.
The writing lacks the wit and intelligence of Poe’s prose, with the exception of some of Cusack’s speeches, and the attention to detail is poor. As an example, the detective seeks out one of Poe’s stories in a collection that was published years before that specific story was written. Whilst the odd error could be overlooked, the numerous poor choices give the impression of a splintered writing process. There are some excellent scenes such as Poe rampaging in a bar where he challenges the patrons to quote his verse, and I wonder if they belong in an earlier draft that was more a straight biographical piece, perhaps with some imaginary interpretation of Poe’s final missing days. I wonder if that script was bastardised to shoehorn in a murder mystery. Of course, that’s just my perception. It could all be intentional.
Cusack’s performance is excellent, and the film is worth watching for that alone. A scene where he reads to a crowd of fascinated women stands out as showing the rock-star nature of a writer of the time. The rest of The Raven, unfortunately, is sub-par. Poe would not approve.