Monday, 18 March 2013

The Raven - movie review

The Raven is a recent film that should have a lot going for it. The central character is Edgar Allan Poe, and the storyline involves a series of murders that bear an uncanny resemblance to Poe's bizarre and often horrifying stories. So there is a locked room crime reminiscent of the murders in the Rue Morgue, a "Pit and the Pendulum" slaying that is extremely gruesome, and so on. A great basis for a story, I'd say.

I'm a Poe fan. I love his stories, not just those five remarkable pioneering stories that established the detective fiction genre, but also the imaginative and melodramatic tales that are so memorable: The Cask of Amontillado and so on. He was a brilliant writer, even if (as the film indicates) his personal life was a mess. And he was a gifted poet, too.

There are a number of very good books about Poe. Julian Symons wrote one and so, much earlier, did Edward Shanks, himself a poet and an occasional crime writer and reviewer. Symons also wrote a Poe-inspired mystery novel, The Name of Annabel Lee, which is worth a read. Andrew Taylor's novel about Poe's youth, The American Boy, is very enjoyable, and John Dickson Carr wrote a fine short story featuring the great man.

Back to the film. I'm afraid it ranks as a missed opportunity. There are some neat touches, but the concept is undermined by a lack of subtlety. There are needless anachronisms, and the dialogue did not suggest a strong connection with the realities of Poe's world. There were one or two lines that might have come out of an Oprah Winfrey or Jeremy Kyle show.. And I know that "okay" is a term that may have been used in Poe's day, but its repeated use did not convince me in the context. In a film with so much potential, these were mis-steps. A real shame. I wanted to love The Raven, but in the end, I didn't.


J F Norris said...

The whole thing reminded me way too much of SEVEN and all the movies based on steampunk grpahic novels. I like some steampunk but that genre is ruining any kind of accuracy in the kind of historical ficiton I used to love. Motivations and psychological insights as usual come not from the time period but from the mindset of a 21st century screenplay writer. The mystery is rather transparent and the culprit is easily identifiable as soon as he is introduced.

On the plus side, John Cusack does his best as Poe given what he is asked to do in the script. I think he was undeservedly raked over the coals by many critics. I enjoyed his performance even if he did seem a bit too 21st century.

Patrick said...

I liked the movie... until the ending came. I haven't seen such a self-sabotaging ending in a *long* time.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these comments, guys. Part of my problem, I suppose, was that I was so hopeful of the film that it felt even more of a let-down than would otherwise have been the case.

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