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Quoth the raven: Wait for the DVD
on May 1, 2012
"The Raven", a fictional horror thriller featuring the non-fictional literary figure Edgar Allan Poe, was well crafted and never less than adequately watchable, but I really expected more. While calling the film cartoony and childish would be way too critical, I thought there was a broadness and simplicity to the proceedings that made the movie veer away from some potentially very interesting waters.
I'm just thinking aloud here, but I would have loved to see a fictional Poe film set in the months prior to his death in 1849, one that made a genuine attempt at showing viewers what Poe was like, what demons bedeviled him, that sort of thing. The device of the fictional detective story involving Poe could have illuminated the non-fictional aspects of his life, aspects that contributed to his tragic, premature death.
But, no, here we get a sanitized, generally likable Poe with only the barest nods to the man's excesses, depression, and hardships. To be fair here, the film at least mentions that Poe lost his young wife to tuberculosis and that the tragedy still haunted him. But not all that much, according to this movie. There also isn't much grittiness or realism in the depiction of Baltimore in 1849, even though numerous crime scenes in bad parts of town are depicted. There was more moody darkness in the Robert Downey Jr. "Sherlock Holmes" movies.
Finally, worse than the broadness evident in the depictions of characters and locations, the movie didn't even give poor Poe the dignity of his inherent flaws when it came to his death. In other words, flattering or not, Poe's demons and weaknesses were part of who he was and why he died, and that should have been shown in the movie. But, no, here we are given a contraption-like plot development (I won't get more specific in case you're planning to see the film) that's responsible for Poe dying. What bothered me about that? Well, it's not so much that the plot contrivance painted Poe and his demise in a better light (to the point of making him downright heroic, in fact); it's just that, in the end, the revisionist history seemed somehow... disrespectful. Let the poor man have his demons and weaknesses.
Plusses? The movie's production design was lavish; the death traps built by the mysterious killer were suitably creepy; there's generous discussion and quoting of Poe's work (especially his poetry); John Cusack did a good job (given the limitations of the script's approach to Poe's character); and I strangely admired the film's willingness to present no-holds-barred gore and violence. On that last point, the movie ads were selling an adult-oriented horror thriller and, well... we were given an adult-oriented horror thriller. I appreciated that.
I just wish the adult approach extended beyond the violent, intense aspects of the production. "The Raven" is an okay movie that could have been so much more.