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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Raven

A film that seems to be weirdly misunderstood by a good number of people - not least of which are its distributors who have somehow deemed this shameless b-movie to be art-circuit worthy.

The Raven might seem to have literary pretensions in that it is a film about the last days of Edgar Allan Poe, a genuinely legendary author, with a title that is an obvious nod to what may well be his most famous epic narrative poem. It's also set up to make you want to read Poe's work as its entire plot revolves around Poe teaming up with a detective to catch a serial killer who is using Poe's stories as inspiration for his crimes.

For all of that though, the aspect of Poe's work in which The Raven is most interested, is its undeniable influence on the pulp fiction of the early 20th century - and, by extension, on everything that was in turn influenced by the pulps. It's not for nothing, after all, that The Raven shares a director (James McTeigue) with the seriously pulpy film adaptation of Alan Moore's V For Vendetta.

It has at its heart a terrifically compelling performance by John Cusack who plays Poe as a bit of a rogue, a bit of a wastrel, a bit of a genius and more than a bit of a sympathetic and desperate man in love, all at the same time. Whether it's an accurate performance or not is almost besides the point. In fact, accuracy and true-to-life realism is not the purview of McTeigue's vision - it may be about a real-life personality and a mysterious part of his life, but The Raven is the farthest thing from a bio-flick as it is possible to be. As such, most of the criticism that has been leveled at the film falls away quickly and almost entirely in the face of what the film actually is.  

The Raven is simply a deliciously pulpy and stylishly told murder mystery that revels in its trashy aesthetic and moody atmospherics with some nice performances, a solid sense of humour and some genre-appropriate gore. It might leave art-film fans confounded and cheated but fans of up-market b-movies should love it.

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