Months ago, I was lamenting the fact that I had somehow missed John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe in The Raven, due to its seemingly short stay in the theaters. This past weekend, I finally remedied that.
If you’ve read my blog before, you may remember that in lieu of the latest Cusack film, I spent some time watching another Poe-centric film, The Black Cat. The feel of that movie was, I think, what viewers were hoping to see in The Raven, although sadly, that’s not what we got at all. The Black Cat was suspenseful, chilling, and intense, with a few moments where I (almost!) averted my gaze. It was quite a lot like stepping right into one of Poe’s stories, and it was truly wonderful.
The Raven, in contrast, was a very different movie. Not knowing a whole lot about Poe the man, I can’t speak to how accurate Cusack’s portrayal was, but I did find it interesting to watch. The friends I was with remarked that most of Cusack’s movies are fairly light-hearted, with The Raven being perhaps his most serious film to date. Actually, I should amend that–Cusack has been in a number of dramatic movies, including 1408 and Say Anything (two of my all-time favorites–perhaps even in my “top five” if you’re thinking like Rob in High Fidelity). But his characters have usually been much less serious than their surroundings–Craig Schwartz from Being John Malkovich is more quirky/strange than serious, and writer Mike Enslin from 1408 is incredibly sarcastic and snarky even in the face of some incredibly horrifying events. Cusack’s Poe is none of these, instead suffering the rather worldly fate of a writer struggling to maintain relevancy, and maybe make a living. Poe is drawn into a murder investigation where the method of the killing is similar to a plot in one of Poe’s stories. And at that moment, the movie shifts into something resembling which is less The Black Cat and more Sherlock Holmes. In a way, it’s a pity, as I’ve seen Cusack take characters to the brink of madness (again, 1408 is a supreme example of this), and I was hoping for just a glimpse of the tortured soul inside of Poe before we got down to the mundane-in-contrast task of solving murders. Granted, we are seeing Poe at the end of his career, so it’s arguable that he’s somehow found his catharsis in writing his best-known works, but it’s still a bit disappointing. We get to see a bit of his ego at the beginning, which I think does a good enough job in establishing Poe’s character and where he is in his life. And it’s relevant to the plot, so there you have it.
I’ve read various reviews of this movie and there was some fluctuation about how much or how little they spoon-fed to the audience about Poe and his work. They jumped right onto “Nevermore” for obvious reason, quickly followed by a reference to “The Tell-Tale Heart”. And anyone who has seen even previews for this movie knows that “The Pit and the Pendulum” plays a gruesome part as well. I just remember the dialogue landing somewhat heavily on each of these references, as if they were slowing down the spin of the plot in order to get the audience up to speed–which, if they were actually fans of Poe’s works, they would obviously have known already. I found it tedious and annoying, personally. And yet, when other clues are left at various murder scenes, pointing to other works perhaps less known, we got nothing. It didn’t bother me personally, but it did feel like the screenwriter perhaps didn’t do their homework. The inconsistency there was a bit off.
And here’s where things get weird.
Somewhere in the course of the plot, the request is made that Poe begin to write new stories for the newspaper that include elements of the recent murders–starting to feel a bit like Stephen King’s Secret Window here, which is about where I felt like this plot was going off the rails a bit. Well, that, and a pretty fair amount of Tim Burton-style blood, particularly across the throat of a hapless victim. The pace of the story picks up, the character development continues to wane, and off we go to the end. Poe comes out as a decent guy–certainly not the murderer (spoiler alert?)–and all’s well that…well, ends. Everything gets tied up kind of like any tv cop procedural would–Castle was the parallel drawn among my friends–and then it’s over. Oh, and did I mention that the end credits were visually and musically completely unrelated to anything else on the screen for the past couple of hours? It was a kind of jarring end to a movie I was really trying to like.
I wouldn’t exactly say that I hated The Raven, but I did come to the blog today with the intention of writing a favorable review, and you see what happened! I will say that as a moviegoer, I enjoyed the experience of watching The Raven, if only because it seemed to be a mishmash of a bunch of other things I really enjoy. John Cusack’s performance was very good, as always–and this is coming from someone who really only sat through Hot Tub Time Machine because he was in it! The story itself was just vastly different than I expected, and judging from the reviews, I’m not alone in that. If you’re a fan of dark, suspenseful cinema (think Jacob’s Ladder), you’ll probably be pretty annoyed at this movie. If you’re up for a procedural crime drama with some pseudo-Victorian flair (think Robert Downey, Jr’s Sherlock Holmes), you’ll enjoy it just fine.
Just…turn it off before the end credits.
(Oh, and I don’t know why Cusack wore a goatee, either. Men!)