Material macabre: Sensational acting drives Poe-laced melodrama
It is widely known that on Oct. 3, 1849, Edgar Allan Poe was found wandering the streets of Baltimore, raving and incoherent. He died on Oct. 7. He was 40. His death was about as much of a surprise as the passing of such modern icons as Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse. Poe was an acute alcoholic, particularly fond of the notorious spirit absinthe. He also used opium and who knows what other substances, and as a man supported only by his writings, may have been badly nourished. This is a lifestyle known to lend itself to incoherent wanderings.
The Raven, a feverish costume thriller, attempts to explain Poe's death by cobbling together spare parts from thrillers about serial killers. It should not be mistaken for a movie about Edgar Allan Poe, although to be sure he buys a drink for a man in a tavern who is able to complete this line of poetry: "Quoth the Raven ..." When I heard that John Cusack had been cast for this film, it sounded like good news: I could imagine him as Poe, tortured and brilliant, lashing out at a cruel world. But that isn't the historical Poe the movie has in mind. It is a melodramatic Poe, calling for the gifts of Nicolas Cage.
The film opens with Poe on a Baltimore park bench, beneath a tree limb holding a large, malevolent raven. Mad magazine would know what to do with that image. Then it flashes back to Poe, broke and in serious need of a drink, bursting into a tavern and expecting to drink on credit. He boasts of his fame, issues the "Raven"-quoting challenge, and immediately establishes himself as a disappointment to those who find Poe a complex and fascinating man. Full Review