Edgar Allan Poe’s literary accomplishments are ripe for theatrical retellings. His stories are mysterious, gory, ingenious and timeless. So it is no surprise that screenwriters Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare would take Poe’s work and use it to create a brand new tale of murderous intrigue in "The Raven."
Set in Baltimore in 1849, a rash of murders has shocked the residents - in particular, one Detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans, "Immortals") who notices something peculiar; the details of the killings mirror various intricacies of the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Poe (John Cusack) is a delirious town drunk who has achieved success as a writer, but whose accomplishments are met with groans and snickers. He - meanwhile - is besotted with Emily (Alice Eve, "She’s Out of My League") the daughter of a wealthy businessman (Brendan Gleeson) who despises him.
Soon enough, Poe is questioned by Fields about his possible involvement in the murders, but shortly after another body has been found and it is clear Poe is innocent - except for the fact that all his stories are being used as clues to decipher the killings to come. Fields and Poe race against time to stop the continuous string of deaths while also trying to protect Emily from becoming the killer’s latest victim. Using key points from stories such as "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Mask of the Red Death," and "Premature Burial," the killer plays a cat and mouse game with Poe, all the while eluding the police and making everyone wonder what the end-game is.
It’s best to not say too much about "The Raven" as what makes it remotely interesting is watching the characters figure out the clues based on Poe’s work. The problem, however, is there isn’t that much fun to be had. Strangely, "The Raven," just sits on the screen unfolding before us without much style or substance. Director James McTeague who made the visually exciting "V for Vendetta" does nothing to give "The Raven" its own particular look or feel. It’s fairly straightforward in design and the camera work is surprisingly static. The story itself, while seemingly clever, wears thin after an hour or so and the payoff is a bit of a snore. Basically, "The Raven" is a 19th Century "CSI: BALTIMORE."
As for the actors, they are a bit all over the map with Evans playing it fairly on target, while Cusack hams it up - even slipping into a bit of over-the-top hysterics clearly played for laughs, when the film itself is anything but a comedy. Eve is pretty, but seems out of her element here, and secondary characters all puff and gruff their way through the exposition like extras from "Sleepy Hollow."
"The Raven" isn’t particularly bad; it’s just not that exciting. It might be a mild distraction on a rainy Saturday afternoon if it pops up on cable and you are in the middle of folding laundry. Otherwise, you can find the same stories every night on primetime CBS.