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Film review: 'The Raven' is a lackluster Edgar Allan Poe mash-up

April 26, 2012|By Andy Klein
  • Alice Eve and John Cusack star in Relativity Media's stylish gothic thriller 'The Raven.'
Alice Eve and John Cusack star in Relativity Media's… (Courtesy of Relativity…)

Edgar Allan Poe's place in American literature would have been secure even if his death hadn't been completely bizarre and mysterious ... just like his stories. But to be found on the streets of Baltimore, delirious, ill, and wearing someone else's clothes — well, that's the stuff legends are made of. Many theories have been presented over the years, and “The Raven” — directed by James McTeigue and starring John Cusack — comes up with another.

This theory is presumably new, given that it barely matches any of the historical record of Poe's last days. To the filmmakers' credit, they are completely upfront about cherry-picking a few true details and constructing a fictional story around them. So Poe buffs should be prepared to drop any expectation of fidelity to the facts. Cusack's Poe mentions never having written about sailors, apparently forgetting his single longest work (“The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym”). He identifies the corpse of Rufus Griswold, a minor figure whose main claim to fame in the real world was as Poe's literary executor, despite the fact that Griswold loathed him and did everything he could to besmirch his memory. (Maybe this scene is a kind of payback by the filmmakers in Poe's name.)

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Like the popular image (not all of which is hooey), Cusack's Poe is both penurious and a drunk. But he also has a sunny side: He is planning to marry Emily Harrison (Alice Eve), who loves him right back, despite the strenuous objections of her father (Brendan Gleeson), one of the city's most powerful figures.

But everything — including compatibility with history — is disrupted when people start turning up dead, in murders that appear to be patterned after Poe's stories. Naturally, no-nonsense police detective Field (Luke Evans) enlists Poe's aid in tracking down this “serial killer.”

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