The time is 1849 and the place is Baltimore, it's the final days in the life of famed writer Edgar Allen Poe and during this time a mysterious killer is using methods from Poe's own stories to commit his crimes. Poe is enlisted to help solve the crimes by a smart young detective, Emmet Fields. The stakes soon become even more personal to Poe when his fiancee, Emily Hamilton is kidnapped by the killer and used as bait for Poe to chronicle what he has seen.
This is the premise to The Raven the newest movie from director James McTeigue and starring John Cusack as Edgar Allen Poe. Previously, McTeigue has been an assistant director working with the Wachowski Brothers on The Matrix films and more recently he's been directing on his own with such films as V For Vendetta and Ninja Assassin, both of which I enjoyed a great deal. Combined with the inspired casting of Cusack as Poe, I was looking forward to seeing this and I had a great time with it.
The Raven certainly salutes a good portion of Poe's most memorable works like Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Pit and The Pendulum but at it's core, this is a mystery/detective thriller and that itself, at least to me, is also a salute as many consider Poe to be the father of the modern detective story. Writers Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare have certainly done their homework and have crafted something here that's a pretty nice extrapolation of what could've led up to the mysterious circumstances to Poe's own death.
The visual style of the film is first rate and most will likely compare it to more recent films like Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow or more recently, Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes films. For me, I think McTeigue has gone back a little further and the look reminds me more of a combination of Roger Corman's classic Poe adaptations and the horror films of the Hammer and Amicus studios. It's very appealing and doesn't have overt flash, but certainly the right detail (with the one notable exception being that Cusack is sporting a beard that the real Poe didn't have- this will no doubt bother some, but I was OK with it).
And speaking of Cusack, I just thought he did a fantastic job here. To me, it was obvious that he threw himself into his research and it shows on-screen. Poe's not made to be some sort of super-hero in this film, he's basically the picture of desperation at this point in his life and it certainly adds to how he helps solve the mystery. Luke Evans plays Detective Emmet Fields. Evans has most recently been seen in movies like The Three Musketeers and Immortals (and will soon be seen in the new Hobbit films). Evans does a terrific job here and though his role isn't quite as flashy as Cusack, he still does a great job of keeping up with him and the two have very nice chemistry together.
Alice Eve plays Emily Hamilton more closer to a contemporary heroine, though it doesn't feel out of place here at all. Brendon Gleeson, Kevin McNally, Oliver Jackson-Cohen and Sam Hazeldine all fill out the rest of the main cast and do a nice job on the support, though I do want to call out Hazeldine a bit here. I can't really say why as I don't want to spoil things, but I do really appreciate what he did in the film.
Now, The Raven isn't perfect. There's a few plot holes here and there that fortunately don't really bother me that much thanks to the film's even pace and strong performances. Also, it's main credits sequence is totally out of place- it looks like something that would be used in a contemporary David Fincher film- but fortunately, they've kept this sequence to run at the end of the film. If it had been set at the beginning, it would've stood out more on the negative side. Still, I was plenty entertained by The Raven, primarily due to the performances of both Cusack and Evans, the good uses of Poe's works in the murders and James McTeigue's thoughtful visual style. It's a fun and cool diversion and certainly worth seeing if you have the chance.