<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by James McTeigue. Starring John Cusack, Luke Evans, Brendan Glesson, Alice Eve, Oliver Jackson-Cohen.
What a brilliant way to take the real life mysterious death of a famous author/poet/mystery writer two centuries ago and turn it into a wickedly intriguing thriller.
Edgar Allan Poe was a writer. He had a way with words and a particularly deft pen when writing tales of the macabre. Some of his more famous works include The Pit and the Pendulum (made into a movie), The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat and The Masque of the Red Death. Unfortunately like most artists he was not revered or paid very well in his time. He died at the age of 40: “in great distress, and… in need of immediate assistance”, according to the man who found him. He is said to have called out a name again and again: ‘Reynolds’. This is all true. So our story takes off from a little before Poe’s mysterious death and fictionalises the events that lead up to it.
Apparently someone in Baltimore, Maryland has been killing off people in the same way as characters in Poe’s shadowy books were grotesquely tortured. So Inspector Fields (Luke Evans) brings in the eccentric Mr Poe (John Cusack) for questioning but all too soon realises that rather than being the suspect, Poe is in fact the unwitting victim of the dastardly killer’s grisly crimes.
James McTeigue’s construction and artful direction of this tale is what puts it a step ahead of most cliché crime thrillers. Let me assure you that you’ll be hard-pressed to figure out who the culprit is. Sure you’ll have your suspicions but 90 per cent of you will be wrong. Who is the jailor of Poe’s love interest Emily (Alice Eve)? Who is the killer of the newsman – ‘I am a critic’ – he pleads as a large blade sways like a pendulum above his ample belly edging ever closer to its meaty prey. It’s funnier when you’re watching it in a room full of film critics!
John Cusack is always lovable and dependable. And in this period thriller he juggles being eccentric, heroic and prolific with mighty ease. The screenplay by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare is almost perfect. The camera work and music transport you to a time of lamp-less cobbled streets, carriages and masquerade balls.
The handsome Luke Evans looks like he could easily be leading man material (perhaps even in a Twilight movie, considering his vampire-like incisors!).
The critics in America didn’t seem to like this one, with more of the audience giving it a thumbs-up. I recommend it for lovers of detective, crime and mystery as well as for the inner poet within you that longs for a time of darkness and light with fewer shades of grey. You may find the end to be anti-climactic but that’s because they’ve stuck to what really happened to Poe at the ‘end’, which they’ve already told you at the start of the movie. So it’s the journey and not the destination.