I love murder mysteries; given my choice of any genre, this is what I will pick every time. To get ready for Halloween, I was hoping The Raven would not only satisfy my desire for a good whodunit but provide some chills as well.
Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) is a peculiar fellow who writes of the macabre in 19th century Baltimore, Maryland. Poe is struggling financially due to a period of writer’s block, has alienated himself socially due to his drinking, and is attempting to win the heart of Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve), but is being thwarted by her father, Captain Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson). To make matters worse, a series of murders that mirror Poe's previous works makes him the prime suspect of Detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans). When a newspaper editor, who has published Poe, speaks up and states Poe was not capable of such crimes, Fields enlists Poe's assistance in finding the real killer.
A clue at the latest crime scene leads Poe to believe that the next murder will occur at a ball hosted by Captain Hamilton. The captain refuses to cancel the event and will only allow additional security and minimal police presence. At the stroke of midnight, a masked horseman breaks into the ball creating a diversion, allowing the killer to kidnap Emily. A note left from the killer claims that there will be more murders that will include clues leading to the rescue of Emily. There are indeed such murders, resulting in Poe and Evans on a desperate search to save Emily and stop a madman.
The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio: 2.40:1. The film has a dark color palette and makes great use of blacks. Film grain is apparent throughout and increases in lowly lit scenes. The image reveals fine details. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 offers an immersive experience with many sounds moving channels. A great dynamic range is on display as revealed through the effects and music, and the dialogue is understandable.
Several extras are included in the Blu-ray DVD release. “The Raven Guts - Bringing the Dead to Life” and “Behind the Beauty and Horror” are short behind-the-scenes featurettes with interviews of cast and crew. “The Madness, Misery, and Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe” furnishes information on the real Poe. It is under 10 minutes but does give depth to the character created by Cusack. “Music for The Raven: The Team” highlights the soundtrack and thoughts behind its creation. The music in the film very much helps to set the tone and is worthy of special attention. “The Raven Presents John Cusack and John McTeigue” is a conversation between the aforementioned about their inspirations and motivations behind their desired involvement in the film. There is an audio commentary with the director and producers; however, this type of film doesn't really warrant much analysis or in-depth explanations. Lastly, the deleted and extended scenes included add very little value. Overall the bonus features do enhance the viewing and further enjoyment of the film. It is minimalistic but doesn't waste your time.
I enjoyed The Raven more than I thought I would. It isn't particularly scary but does have a dark, creepy tone that is especially enhanced by the music. Cusack is solid, as you can always count on him to be, and believable as the brooding, damaged writer. The mystery itself is engrossing and had me invested from the start. Cusack and Evans also work well together; their relationship is similar to Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr. in Sherlock Homes in that Cusack is the wild card to Evans straight-laced cop. The scenes between Emily and her kidnapper are also intriguing, creating a nice balance of intensity as the story switches back and forth between that and the hunt for the kidnapper. The film also contains very little blood and gore, which seems to be overly abundant in most thrillers these days. It is an entertaining journey following the clues leading to the killer. If you enjoy murder mysteries and are a Cusack fan, The Raven is worth watching.
An interactive map of Baltimore: