Never has Baltimore looked so much like Budapest. It’s clear, that although set in 18th century Baltimore, it was not filmed in places like Highlandtown or Canton.

The Raven, which opens today in theaters is, sadly, not the Olde Baltimore or the Poe film we have been waiting for. While the first half of the film is exciting with its twists and turns and is packed with Easter eggs for Poe fans, it never really grasps the tight paranoia that Poe brought to his stories.

Poe, played with bombastic aplomb by John Cusack (Say Anything, Hot Tub Time Machine), has a serious case of writer’s block towards, unknown to him, at the end of his life. His newspaper refuses to print his reviews and his editor calling for more grist and gore along the lines of the Pit and the Pendulum and his personal life is in shambles as he’s unable to marry the society woman, Emily played by Alice Eve (Entourage, She’s Out of My League)  he loves. That is until a serial killer begins a murder spree in the city based on his penny dreadful tales.

When we meet Poe, he’s in a Baltimore tavern about to be thrown out. He screams his name again and again and challenges any of the besotted punters to finish a line from The Raven. Got it? Now there’s no doubt that Cusack is Poe. Who wrote The Raven. Seriously, this was the worst scene in the film.

A few murders in (The Pit and Pendulum, which takes the life of Poe’s rival critic, is one of the best/goriest scenes in the film), Baltimore police detective, played by Luke Evans (The Immortals, Clash of the Titans), decides to call on Mr. Poe as a possible suspect.
Where Cusack’s Poe is all over the place, he’s clearly not cut out for period pieces, Evans’ detective Fields is a subdued, clinical and fascinating to watch. He’s one part Sherlock Holmes and one part Dirty Harry in full on terse line delivery mode.When the pair are on screen together, it’s clear that American actors of a certain age aren’t very good in olde roles.

After checking a few of his alibis and at the urging of a subordinate, Evans brings Poe on as a consultant. And the game is afoot. As the killer acts out murders based on Masque of the Red Death, Pit, Buried Alive etc…Poe and Fields rush around Baltimore, which we know because someone is always yelling “BALTIMORE POLICE!” and “THIS CAN’T HAPPEN IN BALTIMORE!”, trying to thwart the caped mystery man.

In the best scene in the film, the killer manages to get into a masked ball and kidnap dear Emily as her father, Poe and Fields (who aren’t exactly McNulty and Bunk Moreland)  look on. It’s after the kidnapping that the killer finally sets his demands. Poe is to…write more stories. This is where the film falls apart.

The unsatisfying ending reminded me of another mediocre thriller, The Bone Collector. In that film the killer leads Denzel Washington and Angie  Jolie on a twisty chase that ends with an embarrassing thump and a lot of pissed off viewers. Same here. I didn’t buy the end of The Raven one fucking bit, but the ride getting there was quite fun.

There was one interesting point about the film that didn’t occur to me until much later. It begins and ends with Poe on that park bench where he would be found dead. It occurred to me that this was all in his head. One final story to keep himself alive a little longer.

Raven is far from perfect, but if you’re from Bmore it’s worth a checkout. The crew did pay  attention to detail by having the city’s seal on the walls of the police station and the police badges, which was a nice touch, but  I had no idea the city had a  sewer system to rival Vienna’s ala’ The Third Man.

To director James McTeige’s (V for Vendetta) credit, he refrained from making either Poe or Fields some sort of 18th century superhero as Guy Richie did with Holmes. The Raven is a tight little thriller that says goodbye to the Spring as The Avengers dive in to blow up the major Summer releases are about a week away. That being said,  I have no idea why they decided to release this dark and gloomy film in the Spring. It’s clearly suited and would have performed better (I’m predicting a bomb here) in the fall or winter.
To the film’s credit though it DID make we want to go to the library and reread Poe’s greatest hits.

Poe is a hard character to put to film and I suspect after the failure of this film to catch on, you will see him nevermore. Sorry. I just had to. At least once.

Roll trailer!

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