[Review] - The Raven

[Authors note: the regularly scheduled Eureka review will appear on Thursday this week.]

Courtesy of  Relativity Media.
I've long believed that there are three kinds of films. The first: memorable, for good reasons. These are the films that make an impact. That exert an influence. That we reference and quote and obsess over, and at we watch over and over until we know every line. These are the films that make films worth watching. Your Star Wars, Casablanca, and Dirty Harry.

The second kind: memorable, for the wrong reasons. These are the films that fail spectacularly in their attempt. It could be horrible special effects, over - or under - acting, or just a complete breakdown of the fundamentals of the film making process. These are the films that are perfect for Mystery Science Theatre 3000 style riffing, best to watch in a group and mock relentlessly. Your Plan 9, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, or Showgirls.

Then there is the third: forgettable films. Those movies that so lack creativity, or imagination, or character, or depth of story, or any resembling a point that their images slip from our minds as soon as they stop dancing before our eyes.

The Raven wants to be the first kind of film, but would probably settle to be the second. Sadly though, it must settle to become the third. Having just watched it (at the time of writing), details already begin to allude me, and I can only assume that in twenty four hours it will have vanished entirely, erased by my mind to make room for more important things, like Kurdish beet recipes, misheard lyrics to CCR songs and the measurements to 1970's Playmates.

For the rest of the spoilerish review, hit the jump.

Right from the first frame, you can tell that The Raven wants desperately to by Guy Richie's Sherlock Holmes. Failing that, it would be quite comfortable being Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow. Unfortunately, it never approaches the level of quality of either of these films. It was obviously green-lit in the wake of Holmes' success, another studio wanting to cash in on an American version of the same thing. And, grain of truth behind the film's premise is perfect for elaboration.

The best mysteries are the ones that will never be solved, and Edgar Allen Poe has a good one. Having disappeared for several days, he was found on a bench in Baltimore and died soon after. Now, history will tell suggest to us it was less a disappearance and more a high class bender, and it was less a bench then a ditch, but that missing period is just the sort of opening a fictioneer craves. Agatha Christie had one two, which Doctor Who seized a few years ago. It is a pause in reality that allows fiction to seep in, and dominate, without disrupting the normal flow of events.

And speaking of, why is it that writers are so obsessed with having writers deal in their own genres in these sorts of films. Jules Verne is always off on a steampunk adventure, H.G. Wells is always ping ponging through time, and Charles Dickens is always contending with ghosts. Following the pattern, here Edgar Allen Poe becomes involved in a murder mystery, the sort that has been over used, most recently in the pilot episode of the series Castle, wherein the killer is killing in the style of the books.

The worst crime of the film is the waste of talent involved. John Cusack tries, and over does it, his Poe almost hyper, even in his depressive moments. And he speaks with a sort of inflection one does when pretending to be upper class - not an accent, really. Just an arrogance. Except when he doesn't, and is just normal old Cusack, and that's the one worth watching. Brandon Gleeson is always welcome, but isn't given much to do as the father of Poe's bride to be, played by Alice Eve, who is easily the best of the bunch. She's nothing more that a girl in a refrigerator, but she plays the hell out of it, the whispered pleading with her kidnapper while her buries her alive a touching and genuine moment, and welcome change from the standard 'scream your head off'.

Having seen her in several films over the past few years, I worry somewhat. She's genuinely talented, and can be quite funny, as proved in She's Out Of Your League, a movie I can't seem to get out of my head. But it seems like someone behind the scenes is attempting to 'make her happen', much like Gemma Arterton a few years back, when her career and her craft would be better served in smaller, less 'tentpole' films. She has an unspecified role in the next Star Trek film, and maybe that'll be the break she needs to become A-list, but she would probably have a longer career appearing in better films than this.

As for the actual crimes in the film, they are standard thriller movie fair. Bloody and gruesome, but not horror movie level. The bigger issue is, there doesn't seem to be any reason for them other then to duplicate scene's from Poe's books. Which, as the exposition at the end reveals was kind of the point. But the murderer lacks any real motivation. His kidnapping of Poe's fiancee would suggest that it is personal, but why go to all the bother of setting up such such detailed clues. Why not just torture the man: you've already got his love, that should be enough, considering Poe was a depressive alcoholic.

And a Hunt for Red October reveal is less a shock and more a confusing moment of trying to remember exactly what has happened. So much so, that it causes a line so dripping in exposition to come out of Cusack's mouth that I'm surprised he didn't turn and deliver it straight down the camera.

The movie wishes it were more clever than it is. Or, hopes that the audience is less clever then they are. Because this is the sort of sub-standard fair that deserves to get burned off in January or August, when it could placate those of us suffering through the draught season and maybe make a decent box office, rather then get buried between summer box office Goliaths. It'll blip and disappear from theatres by Friday. And in a couple years, as I'm flipping through the channels, I'll find it mid afternoon on a Sunday on some basic cable station and turn it, having forgotten about it, as background noise as I assemble IKEA furniture. And that is the best this movie can hope for as a future: white noise.

Also, the title is meaningless to the film. Like many lines within the film, it is an out of context reference to one of Poe's works that is distracting and pointless.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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