Weak and Weary, by Rita Cannon
The Raven is a mystery, and not only in the way you’d expect. The film stars John Cusack as the famed poet and short story writer Edgar Allan Poe, who by the start of the film is already past his artistic prime and sinking into depression and alcoholism. As if that weren’t enough, he’s soon contacted by the Baltimore police, who tell him that there’s a serial killer on the loose who is basing his crimes on the macabre acts featured in Poe’s stories. What kind of person would do this, and why? Here’s the thing: I’ve seen the movie, and I still don’t really know.
The Raven is plagued by that mystery and a host of others, the most pressing of which is just what kind of film director James McTiegue (previously of V for Vendetta and Ninja Assassin) was trying to make. At first, The Raven feels like a run-of-the-mill serial killer movie that’s only a little below average. There’s a by-the-numbers but basically okay subplot involving Poe’s engagement to the beautiful young Emily (Alice Eve), despite the disapproval of her socially prominent father (Brendan Gleeson). (If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, I looked it up, and yes, John Cusack is closer in age to Brendan Gleeson than to Alice Eve. So thanks for another one of those, Hollywood.) The murders are suitably icky and shudder-inducing, and the script ticks along from one to another quite nicely – until the killer makes off with Emily, and things get personal. With the stakes for our lead character now dramatically elevated, this should be the place where the movie kicks into high gear, but it’s actually where it stalls and then veers off the tracks completely.
There are moments throughout The Raven, but especially near the end, when it feels like there’s an eccentric, pitch-black comedy trying to escape from inside this rather dull-edged drama. It’s hard to know whether this is by design or not. Part of it comes from Cusack, who plays Poe as a self-aggrandizing smartass who delights in insulting those less intelligent than him, which by his estimation is everyone. Part of it comes from the script, which makes less and less sense the more we learn about the culprit. Part of it comes from McTiegue’s odd way of shooting much of the action. A chase scene taking place on the catwalks above a stage should be awesome, but bizarre editing choices – like cutting to extreme close-ups of guns right before they go off, which happens a lot and frequently makes it hard to tell who is shooting who – prevent it from thrilling like it should.
The most baffling part of the movie is actually the closing credits – a dark, zooming, slightly hallucinatory CGI sequence set to “Burn My Shadow” by the British trip-hop group Unkle, and featuring imagery such as exploding bullets, shattering glass, and what look like pieces of shrapnel assembling themselves into the shape of a raven. It’s a startling sequence that looks like it came from another movie (maybe the forthcoming sequel to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo?), but it also serves as an emblem of the kind of movie we just watched – one that’s confused and confusing in equal measure.