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'The Raven' is a strange mishmash of history and action

'The Raven' star John Cusack delivers a serviceable performance as famous writer Edgar Allan Poe.

By Ben KendrickScreen Rant / April 27, 2012

'The Raven' actor Luke Evans (l.) manages to make scenes of exposition interesting that otherwise would have prompted eye rolls.

Larry Horricks/Relativity Media/AP

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The titling of director James McTeigue’s Edgar Allan Poe thriller, The Raven, has no doubt confused plenty of would-be moviegoers ever since the film was first announced back in 2009. Instead of a retelling of Poe’s most famous poem, The Raven is actually a fictionalized narrative centered around the final days of the writer’s life – recasting Poe as a reluctant but brave hero that, along with a determined Baltimore detective, attempts to solve a string of grisly murders.

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The re-imagined historical figures genre has become a new testing ground for Hollywood, most notably with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter on the horizon (FYI: Edgar Allan Poe makes a guest appearance in the novel), where writers can take household names – and put a new, and in theory more exciting, twist on what would otherwise result in stuffier true-life drama (i.e. Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln biopic). As a result, does McTeigue’s The Raven offer both a fun spin on the last days of Edgar Allan Poe – while also delivering an exciting mystery story?

Unfortunately, the misleading confusing titling of The Raven is hardly the project’s biggest problem – as, despite a mostly competent (albeit sometimes campy) effort from both John Cusack (Poe) and Luke Evans (Detective Fields), the mystery narrative elements, as well as the respective kills, are surprisingly underwhelming. Many expectant moviegoers had been describing McTeigue’s Poe film as Se7en in 19th Century Baltimore but, sadly, The Raven lacks nearly all the aspects that made David Fincher’s serial killer film so captivating – i.e. jaw-dropping reveals, smart twists, and – despite loads of Poe stories to pull from – intriguing murder scenes are all in short supply.

As mentioned, The Raven follows the final days of Edgar Allan Poe’s life – presenting the tortured author as a self-absorbed and desperate social outcast whose work was still, at the time, mostly under-appreciated. The only glimmer of light in Poe’s impertinent existence is his furtive lover Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve), the daughter of a retired Colonel and rich Baltimore socialite. However, when a brutal serial killer begins to dispatch victims, by recreating famous murders from Poe’s published stories, including “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” as well as “The Pit and the Pendulum,” the author is thrown into a malicious battle of wits – with life and death hanging in the balance.

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