Monday, April 30, 2012

Movie Review: "The Raven" directed by James McTiege

“The Raven”
Directed by James McTiegue

     This movie Is a dark, atmospheric  imagining of the mysterious last three days in the life of Edgar Allan Poe.   The known facts of Poe’s final days are included in the plot.  Poe was indeed found incoherent on a park bench in Baltimore, was brought to a hospital babbling and screaming about “Reynolds” and died of unknown causes.  The fact that he was found in someone else’s clothes was not in the movie. The fact that he was living in Richmond at the time of his death and only visiting Baltimore was ignored as well.  Poe is presented in “The Raven” as a romantically involved and functioning artist.  His money struggles are documented, but he seems to have escaped the melancholy which actually plagued him for the remainder of his days following his wife’s death from tuberculosis.  He is shown here as blocked creatively but still a espected writer.  The plot of “The Raven” connects Poe’s demise with a demonic serial killer who commits murders copied from Poe’s fiction.

     The movie pays homage to Poe’s most famous writings, including “Murders in the Rue Morgue”, “ The Pit and the Pendulum,”  “The Tell Tale Heart,” “ The Masque of the Red Death” and, of course, “The Raven.” In this movie, a serial killer stages murders and includes the exact details of Poe’s stories.  Eventually the plot entangles Poe’s fictional fiancé who the murderer abducts and threatens to kill.  Clues to the fiancé’s location are left at the numerous macabre murder scenes.  Poe must give an account of the murders in the local newspaper in order to receive more clues to his fiance’s location.  Poe is back to writing, fueled by his love for his beautiful fiancé and fear for her life.

     The casting of John Cusack as Poe is an interesting choice.  He actually looks much like Poe’s photographic image, but his demeanor doesn’t really match the anguished, tortured persona that has come to surround the legend.  Cusack’s Poe never passes up an opportunity for a drink, but also never seems out of control or senseless.    The hypothesis that Poe was engaged in another deep romantic relationship at age 40 doesn’t really fit the historical picture of the reeling, drug and alcohol fueled neurotic which history tells us Poe had become.

     The murder scenes are very gruesome, especially the crime which mimics “The Pit and the Pendulum.”  The most terrifying scenes are those which portray Poe’s fiancé Emily Hamilton (played convincingly by Alice Eve) buried alive.  Unfortunately they lose some of their punch if the viewer has seen any of the trailers for the movie since the bulk of these scenes are included in those previews.

     The movie has some resemblance to the recent Sherlock Holmes series.  The basic plot line of a pair of investigators (in this case Poe and Baltimore Police Detective Fields) trying to follow a series of diabolical clues left by a brilliant but mad murderer.  The addition here of all of the literary references makes this movie more interesting.  The loose portrayal of historical fact, however, detracts from the overall story.
For a Poe fanatic such as myself, this was an enjoyable, although flawed movie.  Fans of horror movies and the recent Sherlock Holmes stories should enjoy it as well.  As a historical document it is inaccurate in many respects, but it is good entertainment.

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