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Originally published Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 12:04 AM

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Movie review

Edgar Allan Poe solves crimes based on own stories in 'The Raven'

"The Raven, " starring John Cusack and Luke Evans, tells an improbable tale in which the poet Edgar Allan Poe plays a detective who helps solve a series of crimes based on his own stories.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2.5 stars

'The Raven,' with John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Oliver Jackson-Cohen. Directed by James McTeigue, from a screenplay by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare. 110 minutes. Rated R for bloody violence and grisly images. Several theaters.

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I read lots of Poe as a kid. The victims are (almost?) always men -- and they... MORE
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MOVIE REVIEW 2.5 stars

No one knows for certain what happened during Edgar Allan Poe's final days on Earth, other than that the 40-year-old author of grisly tales and romantic poetry was found in October 1849 in Baltimore, incoherent and dazed, and died four days later in a hospital. He was unable to explain where he had been (no one had seen him for six days) or why he was wearing another man's clothing. It's safe to say — and the filmmakers who produced "The Raven" wouldn't argue — that we know what didn't happen: the events of this handsome if frequently goofy crime drama in which Poe becomes a cheeky eleventh-hour detective to help solve a series of crimes based on his own writings.

Director James McTeigue ("V for Vendetta"), working from a screenplay by Ben Livingston and the very well-named Hannah Shakespeare, is aiming to combine period literary drama with gory thriller, and it almost works. Which is to say that it shouldn't work (in the same way that the Robert Downey Jr. "Sherlock Holmes" shouldn't have worked, though it kind of did), and that Poe purists are likely to be horrified, and that there's something vaguely funny about John Cusack in a Van Dyke beard and a cloak that swirls around him like batwings. Poe never emerges from this film as a real person; rather, he's written as a self-absorbed nutjob who's always nattering about animal subphylum, cadging drinks in bars, bestowing verbal insults that sound like Oscar Wilde Lite (he calls someone a "mental oyster"), getting irritated with his editor and acting swoony with his secret girlfriend, Emily (Alice Eve). (Her father disapproves of Poe, as well he might.)

Meanwhile, gruesome doings are afoot in Baltimore, as a woman and her daughter are found murdered in a room locked from the inside, a man is sliced in two by (yes!) a pendulum, and poor Emily finds herself imprisoned in a coffin while her kidnapper licks his glistening chops. (Ugh.) The instigator of these crimes is clearly a Poe fan, and so police detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) and Poe must become a sort of vintage Holmes and Watson, trying to stay one step ahead of the killing as they race to save Emily.

It all becomes a blur of dark and stormy nights, frantic horsemen, masked balls, blood, shrieks, zoomy keyhole's-eye-view shots, brooding looks and a raven flapping around for no particular reason except that this film is named for Poe's poem "The Raven." (For the record, it does not quoth "Nevermore," more's the pity.) And while I can't really defend this "Raven" as a good movie, I nonetheless enjoyed it, because of all those swirling cloaks and the moody candlelight, and because of the offhand way Cusack's Poe notes quietly that if he'd realized that all his gory tales would lead to real-life re-enactment, "I would have devoted more time to eroticism." Now that's an idea for a movie. Maybe next time.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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