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The Raven: Suspense-less Thriller Based on Edgar Allen Poe’s Work
A deranged groupie has taken Edgar Allen Poe’s (Cusack) literature a little bit too literally. He goes on a killing spree using different murders from Poe’s stories as inspiration, where each murder contains a clue to the next. The murderer starts improvising though and kidnaps Poe’s girlfriend, Emily (Eve), to draw the author closer in; taunting him. The murderer orders Poe to write a story and publish it in the newspaper where he works, based on the murderous actions. In the story, Poe both immortalizes the killer and shapes his future actions.
This is a film with a decent concept that just doesn’t work out. Making a murder-mystery out of bits of Poe’s literary tales could have been pretty interesting, but it basically boils down to us hopping from one gruesome murder to the next. There isn’t even much connecting one murder with the next. Also, by having Poe translate the murderer’s escapades into fiction the film has a very strong going-through-the-motions vibe, killing any sense of suspense or tension.
The characters aren’t much better either. Cusack’s character of Poe is a depressed alcoholic with a raging ego and an insufferable sense of superiority – basically a cliché of an artist. Eve’s character Emily is pretty and, unfortunately, doesn’t get much of a chance to transcend that trait seeing as she’s stuck in a box for most of the film. Also, Poe is at least double her age and is probably old enough to be her father. Their relationship is kind of creepy and you wouldn’t be wrong in completely empathizing with Emily’s father who does his best to keep them away from each other. Luke Evans plays Detective Fields, the officer in charge of the investigation and the man who first makes the connection between the murders and Poe’s stories. He does a decent job not least because he isn’t saddled with the ‘artistic,’ heavy-on-the-synonyms dialogue that Cusack has to deal with.
At the very least, the film looks good even though it’s not as extravagant as other period films. It has a very Gothic feel with its bleak palette and reams of fog unfurling everywhere, which does manage to give the film a vaguely foreboding feel. The murder scenes are pretty gory, the costumes look good and are sufficiently showcased in the scene of a ball.
The film is disappointing on two levels: it squandered a cool concept and it ended up a completely by-the-numbers thriller.
Held together by a couple of strong performances, Peter Sattler’s directorial debut, Camp X-Ray, explores the story of an unlikely friendship between a female Guantanamo Bay security officer and a long-suffering Arab detainee.
Private Cole (Stewart) is a young woman from a small town in Florida, who – shortly after the atrocities of 9/11 – enlists in the military and is eventually deployed to Cuba to serve as a security guard at Guantanamo Bay.
Enveloped in her own securities in a harsh, male-dominated world, Cole buckles down and begins her daily routine of walking the restrictive cell-block halls. It’s doesn’t take long before she attracts the attention of Ali (Moaadi), however; a well-spoken Arab detainee who has been locked up for the past eight years. Recognising a chink in the armour of her tough facade, Ali baits Cole for some much-needed attention. Though she initially tries keeps her distance, an improbable, though inevitably strained, relationship develops.
Shot with a sense of pining, Camp X-Ray has a small-movie feel that, despite its sometimes shallow approach and lapses into stereotyping, has a big message. Grounded and engaging, the story very much focuses on the dynamics and the growing connection between two very different, but similarly lost, souls whose hopes and dreams are very different from their existence. Its politically-charged premise is never abused and the script, unlike other war-on-terrorism productions, never spoon-feeds its political overtones to the audience; in fact, it leaves it to them to decide and determine the nature of everyone involved.
For a character-driven piece, Stewart’s trademark cold demeanour is actually well suited for her role, while Moaadi – best known for his turn in Iranian Oscar-winning drama, A Separation – is superb as the tormented detainee, managing to convey a variety of emotions with one seemingly haunted look.
Despite its occasional – and predictable – forays into clichéd territories, Camp X-Ray commendably refrains from using its controversial setting as a plot device, instead using it as a backdrop, letting the characters develop in a much more organic and human way – which the actors execute impeccably.
Arriving in cinemas in a tornado of controversy, the behind-the-scene chaos of Paul Schrader’s Dying of the Light is much more interesting than the film itself. The man who penned classics like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull was quick to distance himself from the project ahead of its release after some rather sticky backstage problems with the producers.
Centred on bitter veteran C.I.A agent, Evan Lake (Cage), the thriller is essentially a revenge story, with the hero of the piece holding a ceaseless grudge against at-large terrorist, Mohamed Banir (Karim).
After his employers begin to push him into retirement, his young protégé, Milton Schultz (Yelchin), finds a lead on the whereabouts of Lake’s long-time nemesis, sending the two on a perilous hunt in Kenya.
Six or so weeks before its release, Schrader posted a message on his official Facebook page, reading "We lost the battle.’Dying of the Light,' a film I wrote and directed, was taken away from me, reedited, scored and mixed without my input."
It’s something that becomes apparent pretty soon into the film, with the film’s cinematographer, Gabriel Kosuth, also washing his hands of the released version of the film, saying that he was “denied the possibility to accomplish in post-production what is any cinematographer’s duty.”
Whatever the claims may be, the reality of the final outcome is farcical. Nothing about Dying of the Light makes sense; everything about the narrative feels rushed, over-explained and inflated by its seemingly bizarre and hard-hitting score.
In the middle of the mess is poor Nicolas Cage – a man who will, more than anyone else, suffer the butt of ridicule for the universally panned film. In the actor’s defence, there’s little anyone could have salvaged from the train-wreck film and even the most skilled of actors would have struggled to come out of this looking anything but ludicrous.
There are moments where Cage’s trademark subtle grit falls into place with the storyline and just the very notion of a damaged and imperfect agent is a timeless set-up for any thriller; unfortunately, regardless of the clash between Schrader and the producers, this is still a bland, unintelligent thriller – and that word should be used in the loosest sense.