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The Raven

April 29, 2012
The Raven

Some movies manage to be entertaining despite how bad they are. Sometimes they’re entertaining precisely because of how bad they are. Some are offensively bad, and some are just painfully bad. The Raven is the latter: so bad that it hurts to think that someone actually thought this would be a good idea.

This much is true: in October of 1849 the writer Edgar Allan Poe was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, and he died shortly thereafter, calling out “Reynolds” for no apparent reason as his condition worsened. Writers Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare and director James McTeigue have now made the stupidest possible attempt to explain the circumstances around Poe’s death.

Rather than passing through Baltimore on the road from Richmond to New York, Poe (John Cusack) is now a resident of the city, albeit recently returned. At the same time, a series of murders begins, each one of which draws an inspiration from one of Poe’s best-known stories: “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, “The Masque of the Red Death”, “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt”, and “The Cask of Amontillado”. The detective investigating the crimes, Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) recognizes the first one and enlists Poe’s help.

Poe has other concerns on his mind: a romance with Emily (Alice Eve), the daughter of Captain Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson), fixture of Baltimore high society and decidedly not one of Poe’s fans. Emily is, of course, kidnapped by the murderer when he reveals that he wants Poe to compose another story — serialized in the Baltimore newspaper he’s been writing literary criticism for — to write Emily to safety. Meanwhile, the murderer runs around clad all in black, which may be intended as a foreshadowing of the Poe Toaster.

All of this is stupid. In order to write his story as he does, Poe must be privy to certain details of Emily’s captivity in the first place. Not to mention the fact that the film’s opening card states that what went on in the days before Poe being found are unknown, and then goes on to have his writing published daily in a widely-read newspaper.

Not only does it not make a damned lick of sense internally, it conflicts radically with what is actually known about Poe’s death. Sure, some historical inaccuracy is to be expected, but at some point it’s just ridiculous. One early victim is the rival critic who not only outlived Poe, but became his literary executor besides and wrote both his obituary in the New York Tribune and his first full biography. In fact, it’s exactly this character-assassinating biography that first laid out the character of Poe as a depressive alcoholic that Cusack’s version is based on. At this point, it’s just piling on to point out that Belgrade and Budapest look nothing like Baltimore.

The crowning moment of stupid comes when Poe rants about plagiarists. This in a movie that not only appropriates the murders from his stories with no understanding of how their greatness came from the atmosphere he conjured, but that uses uncomfortably long passages of his writing in lieu of actual dialogue. Save your money; pretty much everything Poe wrote is in the public domain and available from Project Gutenberg, and he does it better than these hacks ever could.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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