Combustible Celluloid
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With: John Cusack, Alice Eve, Luke Evans, Brendan Gleeson, Kevin McNally, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Jimmy Yuill, Sam Hazeldine, Pam Ferris, Brendan Coyle, Adrian Rawlins, Aidan Feore, Dave Legeno, Michael Cronin, Michael Poole
Written by: Ben Livingston, Hannah Shakespeare
Directed by: James McTeigue
MPAA Rating: R for bloody violence and grisly images
Running Time: 111
Date: 03/09/2012

The Raven (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

A Writer, Nevermore

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

"God gave him a spark of genius, and quenched it in misery," a character says of Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) in the new film The Raven.

That's how writers and horror fans picture him, a despicable, tormented genius, with inky, fidgeting fingers, scrawling out morbid masterpieces. This to receive a few pennies to buy spirits -- or something harder -- to ease the pain.

But The Raven is no biopic. Screenwriters Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare and director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) have decided to give Poe a bit of fun before he passes away on October 7, 1849 in Baltimore.

Now Poe has met the first woman to truly make him happy: Emily (Alice Eve). Unfortunately, a psychopath has begun a murder spree. Each method of killing is borrowed from a Poe story.

Police Detective Fields (Luke Evans) enlists Poe as a kind of consultant on the case. But before they can make much headway, Emily is kidnapped and made the victim of "The Premature Burial." She can still be saved, but time is running out.

So Poe races around on the dark, cobblestone streets -- or in the foggy woods -- pointing guns, and chasing a bad guy that just barely gets away each time.

The downside to this is that the movie is half Poe and half Hollywood. Poe the rescuer isn't nearly as interesting as Poe the suffering writer.

At first, Cusack has a wonderful time spewing tasty verbiage at various foes, which then gets dropped for the second half. Even the killer seems disappointed during their final confrontation.

And as his beloved, Alice Eve seems uneasy in period dress; she strikes one as more of a Jayne Mansfield type. Although it is easy to believe that Poe could win the heart of any damsel with his poem "Annabel Lee."

But the good news is that Poe himself is a perfect Poe character, and The Raven has plenty of gore, which as one editor says, is what Poe fans really love.

The mystery is fairly well handled, also, with nifty little clues that the characters solve quickly, before the audience can get ahead of the game.

In that, The Raven is smarter than even Guy Ritchie's recent Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which was more focused on chasing and shooting than solving puzzles.

Overall, this kind of biographical fiction is interesting, and could promote fresh interest in a great writer. And on the flip side, after all these years, Poe does deserve a break.

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