Dir. James McTeigue, US/Hungary/Spain, 2012, 111mins
Review by Zaira Brilhante
After the last two Sherlock Holmes films, it is reasonable to think that a lot more people, who were not big fans of costume drama detective fiction before, might now be attracted by the genre. However, they had better not raise their expectations too high, if they are planning to see The Raven. This fictional portrait of Edgar Allan Poe’s final days lacks the charm and consistency of Guy Richie’s duo.
Directed by James McTeigue, who in 2005 gave us V for Vendetta, The Raven has the same dark atmosphere to it, and that’s pretty much it as far as the resemblances between the two titles go. McTeigue’s directorial presence on the film is close to nil. A bag full of melodramatic performances doesn’t seem to bother him. John Cusack playing Poe tries too hard to hold onto his part and he is not helped by co-star, Luke Evans, who as Detective Emmet Fields delivers a caricature of what the role should have been.
The most frustrating aspect of all is that The Raven has such an interesting premise. A serial killer gets the inspiration for his crimes in the mysterious and macabre short stories of Edgar Allan Poe, making the poet a key element in the investigation. However the script by Ben Livingstone and Hannah Shakespeare is fragmented and weak, possibly due to an attempt to please both Poe’s fans and those who never came across his literature. The result is a plot which is all over the place with over explanatory dialogue that requires the audience to take in a lot of information and to guess too little. The opposite of every good detective piece.
Set in Baltimore, in 1849, the highlight of this film is the well put together production design and costumes. Allied to moody photography and at times sharp editing, these create the few moments of suspense that rescue us from total boredom. However overall this is a questionably stylised period piece. Inevitably one is driven to compare it to Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Both films have key chase scenes set in dark and misty forests, both use slow motion visual effects to add to the excitement of the scene. But where these tricks of the trade succeed in Sherlock, McTeigue and his team fail to pull them off here. In addition the very gruesome and obvious prosthetic make up adds the final negative touch to this serial killer story, making us yearn for films like Seven and the subtle brilliance of the scene with the box.