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The Raven

Year: 2012
Production Co: Intrepid Pictures
Director: James McTeigue
Writer: Hannah Shakespeare/Ben Livingston
Cast: John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson

This movie seemed like the sweet spot for John Cusack's interests. He's never been more than a mainstream actor despite plenty of attempts in the arthouse and has had more than his share of turkeys, but has always had artistic and indie tendencies.

There have been several cycles to his career, starting as the teen/twentysomething fratboy comic (One Crazy Summer, The Sure Thing, Better Off Dead), then growing up and establishing himself with Con Air, but he's had very mixed results at picking projects since then, from the good (Lee Daniels' The Butler, The Paperboy, Hot Tub Time Machine, War, Inc) to the okay (2012, Serendipity) to the irascible (Cell, Drive Hard).

But you only need to follow him on Twitter to know that avant garde art and the process of making art is his first love, and there have been a couple of projects like Max or Love & Mercy where he's really shined.

The project takes both aspects of his career – the mainstream and the artistic world – and mashes them up into a premise that's actually kind of fun, even if it could have had more bite or been more decided about what it wanted to be. He plays novelist Edgar Allan Poe as an inveterate drinker and journeyman in his local Boston neighbourhood, broke but articulate, short of money and not above betting everyone in the local dive to try and score a free drink.

He makes a career out of haranguing the newspaper editor who's stopped publishing his stories (and paying for them, more importantly) because he's moved away from the sensationalist blood and guts that made his name and he's also hiding his relationship with local girl Emily (Alice Eve) from her fearsome politician father (Brendan Gleeson), intending to reveal their impending nuptials and face the consequences soon.

Meanwhile, Detective Fields (Luke Evans) is investigating a series of gruesome local murders when he realises that the criminal is using the grisly killings described in Poe's books as inspiration, seeming to want to frame Poe for them.

Poe reluctantly teams up with Fields and the pair form a kind of 19th century Boston Batman and Robin on the trail of a killer. The plot is then a cat and mouse game as they try to outwit and catch the culprit, and while it's neither scary enough to be a horror movie or funny enough to be a comedy and is only a fair to middling murder mystery thriller, it has enough of a sense of personality (thanks mostly to Cusack's enthusiasm for it all) to more or less work, even if most of the characters and the story around them are pretty bland.

At least, that's until the end credits, with their synth rock end track and comic-book graphical approach. It seems to be saying right at the end that director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) intended for it to be like something from a dark but accessible graphic novel like From Hell, but the rest of the movie feels like it leaned further towards prestige drama with some comic and bloody touches shoehorned in.

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