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Review: The Raven

PUBLISHED: 08:36 09 March 2012

The Raven

The Raven

Archant

The opening of The Raven informs us that Edgar Allen Poe died of some unidentified ailment after being found delirious in the streets of Baltimore in October 1849 and that the events of his last days are unknown.

It then posits that he spent those last days involved in a cat and mouse investigative struggle with a serial killer whose murders are enactments of scenes from his works.

Not a likely conjecture but there is a certain genius to its conception, a mixture of Cliffs-Notes and the Saw movies.

The writer biopic is the most fatuous of genres and a film of Poe’s life has long been threatened, most persistently by Sylvester Stallone, so having it hacked onto a period rehash of Seven is something of a blessed relief. It even manages to slip in a bit of forensics – Ye Olde CSI.

The idea is sound but director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) summons up considerably less Gothic dread than David Fincher did in Seven or even Tim Burton in Sleepy Hollow.

It is, though, a little more gruesome than you might expect. The Pit and The Pendulum murder occurs quite early. Instinctively you expect that after the descending blade first slices the victim’s shirt, the camera will cut away to an illustrative silhouette but instead it stays perched there for every dismembering swing until it becomes lodged in the wooden table beneath.

It’s appropriate that Poe, a man credited with originating detective fiction, has become a figure in a whodunnit and it’s a good little whodunnit with a satisfying dénouement. (The film, though, would be better without its final minute.)

After previously having Ewan McGregor and Joaquin Phoenix attached, John Cusack has ended up as Poe and initially seems a little underwhelmed by the duty, ambling through the early scenes as the arrogant, drunk and down on his luck Poe in a casual Withnail riff.

He bucks up considerably once the murders start, but perhaps the whole film suffers from an air of project that has been passed around a few too many times and has ended up with a group of people who have made a good job of it but not a great one.

THE RAVEN (15)

Director: James McTeigue

Starring: John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson and Kevin McNally

Length: 111 mins

***

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