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Review: The Raven

In his last days, Edgar Allan Poe is forced to assist the Baltimore Police hunt down a madman creating grisly scenes based on Poe's written work.

Quote the Raven Nevermore

RATED: ★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5 buckets

Rated: R Bloody Violence and grisly images
Release Date: April 27, 2012
Runtime: 1 hr 43 mins

Director: James McTeigue
Writers:  Ben Livingston, Hannah Shakespeare
Cast: John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Kevin McNally, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Jimmy Yuill

SYNOPSIS: In his last days, Edgar Allan Poe is forced to assist the Baltimore Police hunt down a madman creating grisly scenes based on Poe's written work.

REVIEW: Director James McTeigue has made the move from first assistant director in such films as The Matrix trilogy and Speed Racer to helm his own films as evidenced by V for Vendetta  and Ninja Assassin. With a script from screenwriting newcomer Ben Livingston and TV series and TV movie writer Hannah Shakespeare, McTeigue delves into Edgar Allan Poe as a true character of American literature and history, and as a fictionalized character in the hunt for a serial killer idolizing his works.

Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack, 2012) struggles with his finances, his inspiration, and his reputation as he walks the streets of Baltimore, Maryann in October 1849. Always an outsider and pitted against the establishment, Poe tries to make money from newspaper reviews and tries to win the hand of Captain Hamilton's (Brendan Gleeson, Safe House) daughter Emily (Alice Eve, She's Out of My League). At the same time Poe courts Emily against the captain's wishes, the Baltimore Police Department is stumped by a series of grisly deaths. Although capably led by Captain Eldridge (Jimmy Yuill, Retreat), Inspector Fields (Luke Evans) is called in to investigate due to the grotesque and horrific nature of the latest crime scene. When Fields connects the writings of Edgar Allan Poe to the actual crime scene description, Poe first becomes a suspect then an expert on his own writings as he and the police try to track down the serial killer before he completes crimes of more of Poe's work.

If you are a fan of Victorian Era period films, The Raven fits nicely in the genre. Darker than Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Cusack's Poe is just as brilliant and troubled. But in Poe's case, he doesn't have a trusty doctor partner watching his back. More akin to Johnny Depp's From Hell, Poe lives a solitary existence as he stumbles through the swirling fogged cobble stoned streets of Baltimore, his only anchor to his sanity a lovely girl of proper stature and station named Emily whose own father resents that his daughter associates with the likes of a starving artist like Poe.

When the engaging story of the man named Poe is not center stage, the serial killer using Poe's stories as murderous inspiration is. Using the details from such Poe fiction as "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Cask of Amontillado", this shadowy figure baffles the police department. Only when Inspector Fields jumps into the investigative fray does the machinations of the serial killer come to the surface. Using Poe's own work the killer forces the writer to play along in a game of cat-and-mouse, the writer of fiction pitted against a killer using that fiction for his own all-too-real grotesque ends.

Shot in Eastern Europe, McTiegue and crew used their isolated surrounds, period architecture, cobblestone streets and wintry nights and pre-dawns to draw the audience into a mid-19th century world masked as 1849 Baltimore, Maryland. Cusack, Evans, Eve and Gleeson prosper as their characters, able to touch their tangible surroundings. Every shot, whether in the confines of Detective Fields' sparse office or out in a misty, tree lined woods, seemed to carry the morose and claustrophobic weight of the man of who the film circles about. As we learn a little about Edgar Allan Poe the man, we also get a glimpse of his work - both by its words and its visceral bloody application. Actually hearing Cusack's Poe finish "The Raven" to a room full of aspiring female poets, the verses are haunting, melodic, and beautiful, leading me to wonder if I dust off "Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque" for another read now that I am an adult.

Gripping your attention its razor sharp talons, The Raven is at times a fictionalized biography of the man and literary lesson of a sometimes under appreciated American writer. Poe was at the forefront of writing about detectives, grisly happenings and killings, and more. Fans of the Saw franchise need to realize that Poe wrote "The Pit and the Pendulum" over 160 years ago, ushering in a written genre that shocked a generation of readers. The accounts of the last days of his career and livelihood are shrouded in myth and urban legend, but The Raven offers a tell tale that is as Poe-esque as could be.

The Raven is best suited to lovers of suspenseful period films like Sherlock Holmes: A Game of ShadowsFrom Hell, and V for Vendetta. Although not as grandiose, The Ravenis a smart, clever, and bloody lesson of Victorian literary lore (and gore) - quote the raven nevermore!

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This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Matthew Hogan April 26, 2012 at 04:32 PM
I was up in the air on whether or not I wanted to see this. Looked interesting enough -- might give it a shot now.

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