In "The Raven," the collected works of Edgar Allan Poe are at the heart of a murder mystery.
A serial killer gets inspiration from Poe's works -- from "The Pit and the Pendulum" to "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" -- to commit a string of gruesome killings in 1849 Baltimore. Poe -- as played by a dark and pale John Cusack -- is drawn into the investigation and must ferret out the killer or his true love, Emily (Alice Eve), will die.
It makes sense to use Poe's work as the foundation for the murder mystery. He's credited with creating the detective story genre, and his work continues to fuel those who delve into the macabre. But just because it makes sense doesn't mean it was the right choice.
The problem in "The Raven" is that the murder mystery isn't as interesting -- and feels mundane -- compared with Poe's actual life story. The author lived a life of fame and misfortune that ended with him being found on a park bench -- dressed in someone else's clothes -- in a delirious state. There are numerous theories as to how he died, ranging from a drug overdose to rabies.
Poe's life comes across as even more fascinating in this film because Cusack gets completely lost in his portrayal of the author. Cusack plays the character with a wonderful balance of creative brilliance and creative madness. The role calls for Cusack to go from a pompous, self-absorbed writer to a truly caring person. It's a masterful performance wasted on a standard murder mystery. Had this been a biopic, there were would have been Oscar buzz for Cusack.