The Raven

The Raven

John Cusack stars in Relativity Media's stylish gothic thriller The Raven. © 2011 Amontillado Productions, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Raven (2012)

Opened: 04/27/2012 Wide

Wide04/27/2012
Georgetown 1404/27/2012 - 05/24/201228 days
Showcase Cinem...04/27/2012 - 05/17/201221 days
AMC Loews Meth...04/27/2012 - 05/17/201221 days
Village East04/27/2012 - 05/17/201221 days
Arclight/Holly...04/27/2012 - 05/15/201219 days
AMC Deer Valley04/27/2012 - 05/15/201219 days
Columbia Park ...04/27/2012 - 05/10/201214 days
DVD10/09/2012

Trailer: Click for trailer

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Genre: Thriller

Rated: R for for bloody violence and grisly images.

Synopsis

A brutal killing spree terrorizes 19th-century Baltimore and a young detective turns to a notorious author for help getting inside the mind of a serial killer in the stylish, gothic thriller, The Raven, an audacious reimagining of the lurid tales of Edgar Allan Poe. Starring John Cusack as the infamous inventor of the detective fiction genre and Luke Evans as an ambitious sleuth determined to stop more of Poe's gruesome stories from coming to chilling life--and death--The Raven weaves history and fiction into an original and twisted mystery worthy of the master of the macabre himself.

When a mother and daughter are found viciously murdered in 19th-century Baltimore, Detective Emmett Fields (Evans) makes a startling discovery: the crime resembles a fictional murder described in gory detail in the local newspaper--part of a collection of stories penned by struggling writer and social outcast Edgar Allan Poe (Cusack). But even as Poe is questioned by police, another grisly killing occurs, also inspired by a popular Poe story.

A deadly game of cat and mouse ensues as the pair races to stop a madman from turning every one of the author's shocking stories into blood-curdling reality. When Poe's love, Emily (Alice Eve), becomes the killer's next target, the stakes are raised even higher and he must call on his own powers of deduction to try to solve the case before it's too late. Directed by James McTeigue, Intrepid Pictures' The Raven also stars Brendan Gleeson and Oliver Jackson-Cohen.

The Raven stars John Cusack (2012, Hot Tub Time Machine), Luke Evans (Clash of the Titans, Immortals), Alice Eve (She's Out of My League, Sex and the City 2), Brendan Gleeson (Green Zone, Gangs of New York) and Oliver Jackson-Cohen (Faster, Going the Distance). The film is directed by James McTeigue (V for Vendetta, Ninja Assassin) from a script by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare (Loverboy). Director of photography is Danny Ruhlmann (Little Fish). Editor is Niven Howie (Resident Evil: Afterlife). Production designer is Roger Ford (The Chronicles of Narnia). Costume designer is Carlo Poggioli (Cold Mountain). Original music is by Lucas Vidal (Vanishing on 7th Street). Trevor Macy (Doomsday), Marc D. Evans (The Strangers) and Aaron Ryder (Sanctum) are producers. Jesus Martinez Asencio is executive producer (The Art of Stealing).

About the Production

On a dark night in 1849, Baltimore police Detective Emmett Fields rushes to the scene of a grisly murder, and finds the mutilated bodies of a woman and her daughter in a rundown apartment. The apartment door has been locked from the inside and the only window nailed shut, but somehow the killer has managed to escape. Investigating further, Detective Fields discovers that the nail is actually a carefully-crafted spring mechanism and the window only appears to be sealed--a detail he recognizes from Edgar Allan Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue."

So begins the puzzle at the heart of the ingenious new film, The Raven, which inventively blends fact and fiction in a diabolical murder mystery cast in the mold of the original master of horror. "It's a great thriller with lots of twists and turns," says producer Mark Evans. "The story has everything you want out of a movie: thrills, romance, adventure, some R-rated gore--and lots of other good stuff."

Screenwriters Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare have created a nimble whodunit that manages to subtly weave parts of Poe's work, life and mysterious death into an original tale, even casting Poe in the role of amateur detective, helping Fields track down the killer. "It was Ben's concept," says Shakespeare. "He asked, 'What if a serial killer was using Poe's stories to commit his crimes?' The stories are ingenious vehicles for murder."

Their story unfolds against the backdrop of Baltimore society, high and low, bringing together fictional and historical figures in a dazzling narrative as Fields and Poe follow a string of baffling murders. "We never set out to make a completely accurate historical biography," says Livingston. "We have taken facts about his life and put them in the movie to give it some historical context, then improvised from there. It's a work of original fiction, but part of the fun of watching it will be recognizing the story elements."

The two completed a draft in six months and began circulating it to studios. It got an enthusiastic reception when it landed on the desk of producer Aaron Ryder (Memento, Donnie Darko) who shared the project with his eventual producing partners, Marc Evans and Trevor Macy. "Ben and Hannah's story was a completely fresh idea and incredibly clever," says Ryder.

In seeking a director to bring the script to life on screen, the producers turned to James McTeigue, known for creating immersive new worlds for his audience in visually singular films such as V for Vendetta and Ninja Assassin. Ryder says it took just a single meeting with McTeigue to convince him that he had found the ideal director for The Raven. "He asked me how far he would be able to push this stylistically," says the producer. "In that one conversation I understood he was the absolute perfect guy to direct this movie. I never looked back."

"James is a fantastic director," adds Evans. "He understands the filmmaking process from top to bottom. Whether it's the schedule or visual effects or how to get an actor to delve into the character differently, he inspires confidence in everybody. He knows how to motivate people."

McTeigue compares looking for a script he wants to direct with panning for gold. "I don't often come across projects that resonate with me the way this film did," he says. "The script was really tight. It was a great, interesting concept. The murder motifs in this film are taken directly from Poe's work, and Edgar Allan Poe ultimately becomes a character in one of his own stories."

McTeigue patterned the film after Poe's greatest short stories. "They all have this incredible macabre quality, as if they happen in the netherworld of his imagination," he says. "I really wanted the film to maintain a pop sensibility, because Poe reflected the fears and hopes of the time he lived in. He was one of those genius figures that come along every now and then, like Vincent Van Gogh or Leonardo da Vinci, who seems out of time. He drew from science and politics and art to fashion a new paradigm."

The director also manages to work into the fabric of the film a very contemporary ethical question. "Poe writes these stories about death and killing, but ultimately he's never been responsible for anything he writes," says McTeigue. "When another character in our story says to him, 'Surely you can't write all these things and take no responsibility for it?' Poe's initial reaction is, 'Is imagination a crime?'" But Poe will face those consequences."

The screenwriters have invented a vicious and completely fictional serial killer who takes as inspiration for his crimes Poe's stories, including "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Murders in the Rue Morgue."

"In the development process, Aaron Ryder and the writers did an unbelievable amount of work crafting the story," says Evans. "When we got involved, we plucked out a few more ideas that we could weave, whether subtly or not so subtly, into the story."

Combining historical fact with Poe's imagination and his own flights of creative fancy is part of the fun, Livingston says. "It's a work of fiction, but we wanted Poe fans to be able to say, 'I know that part of the story.' We didn't set out to write a PhD dissertation on Poe. The movie is meant to be entertaining. At its heart, it is more a love letter to him."

Ryder says that while The Raven may have initially had its roots in historical fact, the film stands on its own as a unique and challenging thriller. "Hannah and Ben took what little can be known and used it as a creative jumping off point for their story," he says. "We've threaded some of the existing facts into it, but we also had a great deal of fun creating something completely new and original."

Evans says the script is the perfect amalgamation of all of things Poe. "It will give you everything you could possible want: a ticking clock, life or death situations and a great hero. The Raven is a multi-layered movie that gives you a solid couple of hours' worth of entertainment. But it isn't just a thrill ride. We've got great characters who go on a complicated journey. The audience gets to ride the ups and downs with them and come out at the other end having had an enjoyable experience they'll want to go back and see again, and will recommend to their friends."

About the Casting

Selecting the right actor to play an historical character presents a unique set of challenges. In John Cusack, the filmmakers found an actor who could embody Edgar Allan Poe both physically and emotionally, while upping the artistic ante with his own unique onscreen persona.

Cusack's extensive body of work, which includes comedies, thrillers and serious dramas, demonstrated the range the filmmakers were searching for. "It's hard to imagine anyone else doing this role," says Evans. "He was able to grasp the full gamut of personality traits that made Poe interesting. He can be witty, he can be charming, he can be romantic. And he can be very dark, even to the point of despair."

Cusack was able to find the character's strengths as well as his frailties, according to Shakespeare. "John has Poe's passion, his intellectualism and thoughtfulness, as well as his ability to go to the dark side," the writer says. "But he can bring whimsicality as well. He went right into the space of Poe."

The actor embraced his character's dark side, says McTeigue. "I don't think he's ever played a character this deeply damaged. Poe is both hero and victim. That allowed him to reinvent himself as an actor. He changed his appearance. He changed his demeanor. He trained a bit and slimmed down some, to become more like Poe physically. We didn't want to get into that classic caricature of Poe with the mustache and the crazy hair that has been parodied everywhere, but we did come up with an interesting look for his hair and his goatee. He learned more about Poe than I ever imagined he would. I think John completely nailed it."

It is a role Cusack coveted. "This is a role that I would have been willing to audition for," he says. "I would have fought hard for it, but I was lucky enough to have it offered to me. I said yes right away. It was a no-brainer for me to be able to play Edgar Allan Poe."

Playing the tortured genius was one thing but not allowing himself to be consumed was quite another thing. "I had an idea how I'd get in," he says. "I just didn't know how to get out and I wanted to make sure I had an escape plan. It was a pretty trippy headspace to stay in."

To prepare for the role, Cusack immersed himself in the life of Edgar Allan Poe, devouring biographies, critical tracts and Poe's considerable literary output. "He was like the French poet Baudelaire, one of these creatures who fit in at the highest, loftiest poetic places," says the actor. "But he could also end up in the gutter with the street dregs and slugs. He breezed in and out of both worlds.

"He became a bit of a rock star when 'The Raven' became famous," he adds. "And like some rock stars, he was one of the great stone-cold, bull-goose crazy addicts. Like most alcoholics, he was capable of periods of sobriety where he'd get it together, but he was white-knuckling it, just holding on by the skin of his teeth."

The actor also recognized a more poignant side to the character, one that he believes motivates his interest in the otherworldly aspects of life. "He had such misfortune," Cusack says. "Much of it was self-imposed. He had a lot of character defects. But so many women close to him died tragically young, from his mother to his wife. Three women died of tuberculosis in his arms. The character of Emily is a composite of a couple of different women who were in his life after his wife died and all of them died before he did. I think that loss was what kept him always looking into the other world, always wanting to get into the other world somehow."

In the film, Poe meets his intellectual match in the form of Detective Fields, the fictional Baltimore police detective leading the investigation into a string of bizarre crimes that appear to be linked to Poe. For that character, the filmmakers sought an actor who could match Cusack's manic intensity with quiet strength. "Fields is very, very precise," says Shakespeare. "He believes in logic. If he can't explain it scientifically, it doesn't exist. On the other hand, Poe studies human nature. He's empathic. The way we saw it, Fields is doing the precursor of forensic science and Poe is the prototype for today's profilers. He's getting into the mind of his antagonist, while Fields is studying the effects."

They cast Welsh actor Luke Evans, who recently graced the screen as two ancient Olympians, Zeus in director Tarsem Singh's Immortals and Apollo in Clash of the Titans. "We didn't want a father-son or a mentor relationship between them," says Ryder. "Fields is probably the youngest guy in the room, but he's the guy in charge. He needed to have the confidence to carry the weight of the investigation. It takes a strong persona. The minute we saw Luke we all felt we'd be pretty lucky to have him."

"When Luke walks in, you say 'here's a movie star,'" says McTeigue. "He also brings a real intelligence to his character. There's a lot going on behind the eyes. And juxtaposed against John Cusack as Poe, he is quite interesting. They're so different looking, but also complementary in the frame."

A performer with a strong background on the British stage, Luke Evans was attracted to the volatile mix of Fields' cool analysis and Poe's white-hot intuition. "These two characters have fantastic chemistry," says Evans. "They spark off each other in a negative way and they don't really like each other at the beginning. They don't bond at all but they have to work together."

The first time the audience meets Fields, he is at a crime scene that seems oddly familiar. Gradually he realizes the scenario is drawn from a story written by Poe. "His mistrust and disgust for Poe's work are apparent," says Luke Evans. "That makes the writer Fields' first suspect."

But Poe's alibi is easily proven and an uneasy alliance is born between the pair. "They're the light and the dark of each other's characters," says McTeigue. "Fields is a little more patrician and uptight. He faces the horror of everyday murders in his job. Poe is only writing about that world, not having to be confronted with it. They butt heads, until they realize that they need each other. Fields can investigate in a very methodical logical fashion, but he needs Poe's crazy creativity to jump into the mind of the killer."

"John is just a brilliant actor," says Luke Evans. "He really invests a huge amount of time and energy into the role. You could see he loved playing Poe. He stayed in character a lot and it's really interesting to play off that. I never thought, 'There's John Cusack.' I always thought of him as Edgar Allan Poe."

Emily Hamilton, Poe's love interest in The Raven, is an unusual woman for her time: educated, privileged, independent and stunningly beautiful. The daughter of one of Baltimore's wealthiest businessmen, Emily has made up her mind that she is going to marry Poe, with or without her father's approval. Alice Eve, who like Evans is a veteran of the English theater, plays Emily.

"We all knew it was going be Alice," says Ryder. "Somebody in my office kept saying to me, why don't you just cast her? She's both strong and vulnerable, which was perfect for the character."

Eve perfectly embodies the character's extraordinary attributes, according to McTeigue. "I'm sure there are a lot of men out there who think Alice is worth dying for," he notes. "She is a really great mixture. She's very bright and very beautiful as well."

The actress found the idea of exploring the life of a great writer intriguing, but the script was the deciding factor. "I loved it," says Eve. "It's a proper thriller with a great backstory that is based in fact. There's the emotional story, which is my story. And then there's the epic film that Luke and John star in. And then there are the horrific stories of murder. Hopefully, it will appeal to a large cross-section of movie lovers."

Eve's character, Emily, is secretly engaged to Poe and wants to reveal their plans to her father, knowing that he violently disapproves of her betrothed. "She's a real woman," the actress says. "The character is strong and forthright. But she has a complicated relationship with her father. Her mother died when she was very young, and she's stepped into that role in a lot of ways. Now she's fallen in love with a wild genius and it puts her in the way of danger. They are a bit like Romeo and Juliet, in that they have come together at perhaps the wrong time and in the wrong place."

Cusack brought a lot of lyricism to his character, says Eve. "He gives the language a melody and flare. He inhabited the neurotic, alcoholic man very well. We did a lot of talking and investigating and working out what kind of man Poe is. There are lots of things written about him, but as they say, never trust the poet, trust the poem. John had to find the man for himself."

Eve's character is an amalgamation of several women in Poe's life. "Emily didn't really exist so my task was different from John's in discovering who she is," says the actress. "I had a bit more freedom. I imagined that Emily is the next and last best hope for him. Poe redeems himself when he understands true love and sacrifices himself for it."

Eve studied piano and the Viennese waltz to prepare to play a 19th-century aristocrat, but the most difficult aspect required her to learn to do nothing. When Emily is kidnapped by the murderer, he stashes her in a way that would do Poe proud: He keeps her in a coffin. The actress found that sequence particularly difficult to shoot. "I'm claustrophobic, so when buried alive in a stinking, wet, box, I tend to feel panicked," she admits. "This very powerful character reverts to utter helplessness and weakness. That was an interesting journey within the film for me."

Livingston and Shakespeare created the character of Colonel Hamilton, Emily's father, to represent the burgeoning wealth of a still young country. "Hamilton is emblematic of America at that time," says Livingston. "It was a pretty rough and tumble place. The U.S. was at war on several fronts throughout the first half of the 19th century and men like Hamilton had fought in those wars and gone on to become wealthy industrialists. They thought that through sheer will they could make the world they wanted. But no matter how much power Hamilton wields, he can't stop what is happening to his daughter."

Irish actor Brendan Gleeson brings his tough patriarchal gravitas to the role. "He had a great sense of humor about Hamilton, which was important because Hamilton doesn't really have much of a sense of humor about himself," says McTeigue. "It would have been very easy to play him simply as an overbearing father figure. Brendan saw more. He brought the bluster, but there is also the softer side of the father who brought up his daughter without a mother. Brendan understood the depth that was hinted at in the script and brought it to life."

Hamilton is a moneyed elite," says Gleeson, "But he is a self-made man accustomed to being in control. He had a naval career at one point and built himself him up through industry, so he's not afraid to get his hands dirty when necessary. His daughter is his only heir and obviously the apple of his eye. He's not used to being powerless in any situation, so Emily's disappearance is very difficult for him."

Hamilton sees Poe as a corrupting influence on his extraordinary only child. "In Hamilton's opinion, Poe is feckless and essentially worthless," says Gleeson. "It is not that he is simply an autocratic parent getting in the way of young love. He truly cares about his daughter. Hamilton isn't in need of social approval, so he's not looking for a 'good' match for her, but this man is, in his eyes, malign. The idea that his beautiful, mischievous daughter is going to be brought into dark and evil places is appalling for him. I think it would be for any parent."

When Emily disappears, so does everything Hamilton values and he lashes out wherever he can. "It all turns to dust for him," the actor says. "His initial response is to blame everyone else. He throws the anger and the guilt and the frustration on the police and particularly on Poe, whom he feels has visited this upon her. Everything he feared about Poe has come to pass in a way."

The film's deft combination of psychological thriller, romance and action helped bring the acclaimed actor to the role. "It has unexpected depth," says Gleeson. "When I initially read it, I thought it could become essentially about the action, and the other issues might not get an airing. And so it has been fantastic to come and see James McTeigue take it to a more profound place."

Screenwriter Ben Livingston says he couldn't be happier with the casting of the The Raven. "When I write a script, I have a certain image in in my head that I try to put on the page when I'm describing the character for the first time. But this was the first time I've come on the set and thought, that's exactly what I had in my head."

 

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