The Raven review and interview with director James McTeigue
Insisting that this is now his fourth major feature film following V for Vendetta, Ninja Assassin and a “small Warner Brothers project”, James McTeigue took some time out to talk about The Raven, a fictionalised account of American poet Edgar Allen Poe’s last days alive – less of a biography and more of a who-dun-it murder mystery.
Undeterred by his critics and fellow poets, whom he sees as competition, Poe (John Cusack) is suddenly called upon to aid in the investigation of a string of murders that are all based on stories and poets authored by himself. Detective Fields, played by Luke Evans, heads the case and, with a useless poet by his side, sets out to catch the elusive murderer.
Despite the film being set in Baltimore, Maryland, the strength of The Raven is largely carried by the very British cast that McTeigue brought on board. Alice Eve, playing Poe’s love interest Emily, and Brendon Gleeson, who carries a strong sneer as her suspicious father Colonel Hamilton, both illustrate their roles to a tee. The mood is encapsulated wonderfully with dark lighting and shadow use to portray cynicism where needs be.
However, what slows down the film is the lack of creativeness within each scene. The murder-mystery plot is quickly laid out from the beginning and makes us start to move into familiar territory which wouldn’t look out of place as a narrative for a gritty weekday BBC drama. Nevertheless, the fantastic choice to have John play Poe allowed a breadth of comedy which lit up even the darkest of scenes.
Whether this is his third or fourth film, McTeigue has taken notes from V and applied them to The Raven in, mostly, an orderly fashion. Maybe a tighter and more interesting script may have made the film more enjoyable but a solid performance from a solid group of actors keep the eyes peeled for the big reveal at the end.
James McTeigue isn’t at all what you would expect. Sitting in a hotel suite at The Dorchester, he doesn’t look like a man who rubs shoulders with the likes of the Wachowskis (The Matrix) and George Lucas in a regular day.
The Upcoming caught up with James McTeigue and talked about his latest feature film The Raven.
First of all, congratulations on The Raven. It comes in the wake of your very successful first feature film V for Vendetta (V). How different was it approaching The Raven compared to V?
Well thank you very much. V for Vendetta was very successful at the box office and it did get good reviews but that didn’t mean I approached The Raven in a different way. V was about what was happening in America at that time with the whole rise-up against the “totalitarian regime” so it was a completely different subject matter in that sense. But of course I had a whole new group of actors to work with so that was different in a way.
Did you ever feel pressured to match or better the success that V for Vendetta received?
No, not at all. Of course I was delighted with the reception that V got but in between them I also did that Ninja film (Ninja Assassins) which was, again, a completely different project. That is how I see every film I do.
Jon Cusack (who plays Edgar Poe in the film) has a natural comedic tone to his acting. Did you intend to use that when filming The Raven?
Oh yes of course! I love how funny Jon is and how he collects all of his humour from loads of different sources. He has a very dry sense of humour which goes down well over here.
Are you a fan of Edgar Poe and his poetry? Is that what primarily made you interested in taking on the project?
Yes, I read a lot of his literature in the past so I was familiar with his character and the way
Jon needed to portray him on screen.
Is it true that both Ewan McGregor and Joaquin Phoenix were approached about the role of Poe?
I did have a few meetings with Ewan about playing the part of Poe and also with Joaquin, but they were both tied up in other projects. I only met Joaquin once about the role but at that time he was filming his documentary I’m Still Here.
Interestingly the cast of the film is mainly made up of British actors, even though the film is set in Baltimore, Maryland. Was this use of talent from over here intentional?
There was just something about the British having this unique quality to their style of acting which I just loved. Of course, I’ve worked with the British before in V but in The Raven I had Alice Eve (Emily) who is a young up-and-coming actress with just so much talent – and of course Luke Evans (Inspector Fields) and Brendon Gleeson (Colonel Hamilton) who are both very good.
You have worked on many very well-known films such as the Matrix franchise, Star Wars and Street Fighter with the mighty Van Damme, but all as an assistant director. Do you find it daunting now that you’re the one sitting in the director’s chair?
While filming V, there were some times when I was petrified and you really do notice the responsibility given to you. I had a lot of clips that I had saved and stored while working as an AD (assistant director) so I’ve used them as an aid to better my style of directing now. I consider this my fourth feature film so it’s getting better.
How did you first get into film-making?
Well I was actually living in my home country of Australia and a friend who worked in the film industry just asked me one day if I wanted to help in on a project in America. I said yes; so the next thing I know I am in the US and I haven’t looked back.
Can you tell us about any future projects you have in the pipeline?
Yes, I can. I am going to be directing a film about a guy who travels to America from South Africa after his sister’s disappearance from his life. It’s called Message from the King and we start filming this April. I’ve also got another project set around the time of Al Capone which will come about a bit later.
The interview took place at The Dorchester Hotel. The Raven is released nationwide on 9th March 2012.
Watch the trailer for The Raven here: