The producers of The Raven (2012) decided to have a macabre laugh on us by casting John Cusack as Poe. To their dismay, however, we are the ones having a laugh. As the clock struck midnight in director James McTeague’s Baltimore (about 8:30 here in Milwaukee at the North Shore Cinema), everyone started dying of laughter—not due to our own arrogance, however, but rather, that of the creative (?) minds behind this project.
It’s very hard to pinpoint what went wrong with the production of The Raven, because nothing seems to fit, as if so many puzzles’ pieces were mixed and then stitched together like some Franken-film. Cusack slips in and out of an ambiguous accent. Nic Cage-like, he arbitrarily shouts questions into the night air at inopportune moments in search of unanswerable questions. Cusack overacts like the actors in old silent films—everything is written in his face and body language—but he chooses not to split the difference by toning down his line delivery. Instead, his body language exacerbates his verbal language and, in turn, his performance translates to more masculine avenger than it does sickly dreamer.
McTeague seems to be mimicking Guy Ritchie’s modern adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes films (2009, 2011). However, Robert Downey Jr.’s vigilantly quick-witted and physically fit interpretation of Holmes plays on core attributes of the famous character, whereas Cusack’s interpretation of Poe guts the vital elements of the decaying author and creates something entirely alien to Poe. The only slightly faithful attribute of The Raven is Poe’s text, which Cusack often delivers in seemingly unpracticed first-takes.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much to be said about this film’s production and so much to be said about more personal issues like Cusack’s career path (which I hope to address in a future meditation), director James McTeague’s familiar thematic exploration, and Hannah Shakespeare’s screenplay (which gives new meaning to the term “Shakespeare”).
The Raven fails to inspire the viewer. It fails to question fundamental questions of existence. It fails Edgar Allen Poe’s sensitive understanding of terror and anxiety in an unforgiving world. But most importantly, the film fails to entertain. Should the hero have been anyone but Edgar Allen Poe, than the movie could have been an adequate retelling of the age-old virtue vs. evil continuum. However, the hero is Edgar Allen Poe. The hero is Rocky Balboa. The hero is not Lloyd Dobler.
And for that, The Raven shall be revered . . .