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4/30/2012 9:01:00 AM
MOVIE REVIEW: The Raven updates Gothic, noir murder mystery with Poe
Relativity MediaJohn Cusack is Edgar Allen Poe, desperate to catch a killer in his last days, in the thriller The Raven.
Relativity Media

John Cusack is Edgar Allen Poe, desperate to catch a killer in his last days, in the thriller The Raven.

David Kanowsky
Kudos Movie Critic, The Movie Man

The Raven is a classic Gothic murder mystery that is elevated above the ordinary by all the production elements of the film.  The acting is outstanding; the sets and costumes are extremely effective making us feel transported into mid-19th century Baltimore. The music is fitting to every scene - horror, romantic, dramatic - without drowning the story. And the camera never seems to be in the wrong place at any time.

Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) is a resident of Baltimore and a well known writer when the film opens. He is primarily a literary reviewer for the local press, but his reputation is based on his poems, stories and novels of the past. They are mostly murder mysteries. He is not very successful as a reviewer. Poe is destitute because his editor wants more of the stories that have been so popular in the past. He is now a heavy drinker and is unable to invent any new material for the genre he popularized in the 1830s and 1840s.

A triple murder takes place in the city. The police are not only unable to solve the brutal crime they are completely puzzled by the setting. When they arrive at the scene, they hear the door being locked from the inside.

Once in the apartment, there is no apparent exit, but there is no living soul present. The window is nailed shut and there is no other way out. A high level investigator, Detective Fields (Luke Evans), arrives on the scene and is able to discover how the murderer got out even at the moment the police were breaking through the door.

Fields realizes that the murders and the escape trick are familiar. They had been important elements in one of Poe's horror stories, "Murders in the Rue Morgue."

Then another murder occurs, also following the method of one of Poe's stories, "The Pit and the Pendulum." The victim, dissected by the swinging axe, is a writer who is a rival of Poe's at the newspaper. Poe is suspected by the police, but Detective Fields has no such thoughts. Instead he brings Poe in to help with the investigation. Perhaps, with clues and hints left behind, Poe can get a sense of the mad serial killer's next target.

Poe and Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve) are in love and want to get married. Her father, Captain Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson), a lion of Baltimore society, is opposed to the match and considers Poe a failure and drunken wastrel.

One of the killer's ploys involves putting Emily in danger to satisfy some need for revenge that is not apparent to Fields or Poe. The motive is not revealed to us as several other horrific murders take place, all in the fashion of the Poe stories. The Raven shows a lot of blood in scenes, but very few shots of the murders taking place.

The Raven moves along at an exciting pace with no revealing hints about the identity of the killer. There is no lack of interest in the characters mostly because they are so well played.

Cusack's performance is just about perfect as he goes from a drunken nuisance in a bar to an angry frustrated writer and to a thoughtful assistant to Fields. He is softly disarming in love scenes with Emily. A touching moment is when Emily has received the poem that Edgar has written for her, the moving "Annabel Lee" and reads it with him in his study.

The Raven is like an old fashioned film-noir drama, but it is successful using up-to-date movie making techniques.

The Raven is at Harkins Sedona 6 Theater.

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