It’s best to say up front that director James McTeigue’s take on the final days of Edgar Allan Poe in The Raven probably falls far short of historical accuracy. While Poe did indeed die in Baltimore in 1849 – most likely from complications related to his rampant alcoholism or possibly rabies after being found hallucinating outside of a pub – his final mysterious days were likely nothing close to those depicted by writers Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare. The truth was probably far more depressing and sad than this mostly enjoyable Sherlock Holmes aping yarn befitting of the famed gothic author until a tragically misguided conclusion.
Arriving unwelcome in Baltimore as a washed up drunken prat turned literary critic, Poe (John Cusack) spends most of his time bickering with his editors about being pushed out of the local paper and teaching women how to write poetry for his rent and booze money. While the once mighty Poe seems to have fallen far, a locally based serial killer has taken to recreating Poe’s ghastly horrors and mysteries as actual gristly murders. The local police enlist Poe’s help to stop the killer, who has also targeted his new fiancée (Alice Eve).
Not a lot of what happens in The Raven makes logical sense, but it makes almost perfect narrative sense. Much like a lot of the real Poe’s work, this film lines up a trail of breadcrumbs that the audience has to follow to reach a final revelation, but that’s not to say that it’s dully handled. McTiegue keeps the action moving along at a great pace, and showing a visual style not too far removed from his work on V for Vendetta. Even when the film’s editing seems to fail him at sometimes the most inopportune of times, the film is good looking enough to shrug off some minor inconsistencies.
That is until the conclusion, which can’t really be discussed without spoiling, but would be exactly the type of hackwork that the critical Poe would’ve looked down upon with utter disdain. The suspension of disbelief needed to go along with the killer’s style of offing people completely breaks down into something so unfathomably ludicrous that it’s almost comedic. Absolutely nothing that happens in the last ten minutes of the film could ever have taken place even within the somewhat fantastical world created by Livingston and Shakespeare.
Despite that, the film definitely has entertainment value, thanks in large part to Cusack who hasn’t had a role this good in quite some time. As Poe, he gets to get his Nicolas Cage on for a great deal of the film, without ever retreating to Jack Sparrow drunkenness or Robert Downey Jr.’s level of smartass eccentricity. It hits the sweet spot the character needs to have to simultaneously seem sympathetic and repulsive to the audience. Sure, there are scenes where he has to devour the scenery while shouting at the top of his lungs and he sometimes carries around a pet raccoon, but there’s something endearing about seeing Cusack doing something different for a change. He elevates the film to a level of fun, brainless camp that the wonky material needs and deserves.