Lecturey Raven gets it wrong

Cert: 12A **

Athriller in which an obsessed fan murders his victims based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe sounds like it could make for an interesting movie, especially when you add in the fact that the 19th century author himself helps try to solve the mystery. The Raven, however, is neither a literary treat nor a B-movie gorefest. Instead, it manages to take the worst of both worlds, shoehorn in some biography about Poe and end up with a movie that’s not sure what it wants to be.

John Cusack doesn’t seem to know whether to play his permanently-inebriated writer straight or for laughs as he bumbles around, implausibly attempting to help the police find the killer. His fiancé (Alice Eve) doesn’t have much to work with, spending most of the movie prematurely buried in a cellar.

The leaden plot is interspersed with the occasional grisly murder, which liven things up a little – there were audible squirms as a newspaper critic was sliced in half Pit and the Pendulum-style. But with each murder, Poe pops up to instruct the audience as to exactly which of his works this crime has been based on and it starts to feel a bit like an English lit lecture rather than a thriller.

For those familiar with Poe’s work, the relentless over-explaining of each murder will soon begin to grind, while those whose knowledge is sketchier are unlikely to care exactly why the tell-tale sound of a heart beating under the floorboards is significant. By Lisa Melvin

Cert: 12A ***

Inextricably linked to the Twilight franchise, Bel Ami is likely to have an instant appeal for teens. That said, his role as Bel Ami’s Georges Duroy isn’t exactly teen fodder. Still, he does a pretty god job at it, which is a big part of what makes makes the film enjoyable.

Directed by theatre company Cheek by Jowl’s Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, Bel Ami is set in 1890 upper class Paris society. Pattinson’s Duroy is a penniless soldier who claws his way up the social ladder. Using the wives of the powerful to gain favour, he quickly seduces Clotilde (Cristina Ricci), Madeline (Uma Thurman) and Virginie (Kristin Scott Thomas).

Pattinson handles the role as well as his character handles the ladies. There is just enough depth to his scheming but ultimately empty character. Thurman as is wonderfully contemptuous as Duroy’s intellectual wife, rather more interested in politics than romance (“there are supplies being transported to Algiers!” she cries as Pattinson squires her.) Kristin Scott Thomas shines as Duroy’s previously-faithful mistress, but she is underused.

The plot can’t be faulted, adhering as it does more or less to Guy de Maupassant’s original story, but it’s all a bit coy. Tis Pity She’s a Whore, Donnellan and Ormerod’s current London production, really lets loose with the hedonism – here, perhaps mindful of Pattinson’s teenage audience, the drama never quite reaches the heights promised. LM

Cert: 15 ***

An overly ambitious attempt at reimagining Hardy’s classic story by director and auteur Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People), this is essentially Tess of the D’Urbervilles in India. As a premise, it’s interesting: the son of a property developer visits India, falls for a poor, beautiful daughter of a rickshaw owner (Frieda Pinto) and gets her a job in his father’s hotel before guilt sets in and their relationship begins to break down. Sadly it just doesn’t pack the emotional punch it should.

Okay, so Winterbottom doesn’t stick to the original story, but the real problem is his decision to allow the actors to improvise their dialogue and, well, the script itself. Such looseness doesn’t have the same resonance as Hardy’s novel and it’s difficult to engage with characters who aren’t as convincing as they should be. The soundtrack is beautiful and there are some lovely touches, but this falls disappointingly short.

Cert: 15 ****

Sean Bean has some serious repressed rage issues in this violent British thriller. After a London restaurant is blown up by a suicide bomber, Ewan, a government agent (Bean) has to track down the cell responsible. As with all confidential missions, conspiracy is rife and, typically, all is not as it seems.

The more engaging aspect of the film is not Ewan’s brooding, but the less genre-bashing story of Ash (Abhin Galeya), a young Muslim sucked into extremism by indoctrination at the hands of a particularly magnetic cleric (Peter Polycarpou). While Bean does a fine job, and though writer and director Hadi Hajaig shows those American film-makers the true meaning of the word “grit”, we’ve seen his story before. What we rarely see is a convincing look at the makings of a terrorist – Hajaig focusses on what would normally be a subplot. The twist in Ewan’s story is as disappointing as Ash’s final actions are bewildering but, dodgy endings and patchy character development aside, Cleanskin remains a stylistically impressive look at post 7/7 London.