The story of Jack the Ripper has always been a fascinating one, but one wonders if it would be as interesting if he had been caught. There are many theories as to who it was and what were the motives behind the insanity of the killer, many of which have been already explored in the movies. From Hell is the latest offering from the Hughes Brothers, Albert and Allen, who previously gave us the excellent Menace II Society and Dead Presidents.
As the true identity of Jack was never discovered, the film chooses to follow the Royal Conspiracy theory. For those not familiar with this, and wish to avoid any very minor spoilers, you are advised to skip the follow two paragraphs and jump straight to the conclusion.
It begins with a prostitute being horrifically murdered on the streets of Whitechapel, London 1888, followed swiftly by another. The ferocity and savagery of the killings sparks a hysteria amongst the populous, each choosing to blame whomever they feel like. Theories are abound and include foreign spies trying to cause panic, a mad butcher or even a member of the vast Jewish community. To try to kerb the panic with a quick resolution to the crime, Police Commissioner Sir Charles Warren summons one of his brightest inspectors, Frederick Abbeline (Johnny Depp) to handle the case. Inspector Abbeline is assisted by two things, one his duty-bound sergeant Godley (brilliantly played by the ever dependable Robbie Coltrane) and secondly his visions. Abbeline's peculiar gift, his visions, reveal to him the killers next prey. Unfortunately he can only achieve visions when under the influence of opium.
The local crime syndicate is the first suspect but are ruled out as the murders are too clinical and too horrific to be the handiwork of thugs. As more murders are committed, Abbeline rubs shoulders with the royal physician Sir William Gull (Ian Holm) who surprisingly points the young inspector towards the direction of the Royal household. As theories are continuously being spouted and more prostitutes are being killed from a specific group of five, Abbeline has not only to contend with the barriers placed on his investigations from all sides, including his superiors, but also he is falling in love with one of the group, Mary Kelly (Heather Graham - typically the only good looking prostitute out of the group!). Abbeline's investigations lead him to a fanatical cabal of Freemasons, which in turn convince him that the killer is an educated man with good standing in society. The Freemasons are suspected of a cover-up to hide the liaisons between Prince Albert Victor, the debauched son of the future Edward II, and 'fallen women'. Only when all theories are proven can the true identity of the killer be revealed - and more importantly how high up the society ladder the knowledge of his identity goes.
The Hughes Brother have given us a very atmospheric and bleak London, with dark streets and hypnotic visuals. The urine soaked alleyways filled with tuberculosis-stricken streetwalkers and their 'gentlemen' callers all add to the excellent ambience. That is unfortunately where it ends. The pace of the film is boring, with very little in the way of suspense. It forgoes the 'Abberline versus Jack' thrills, or even the love story between Abberline and Mary (each one of these story lines could have spiced things up had it been at the forefront) but chooses to follow the hypocrisies of Victorian London. Hypocrisies are all well and good, but not at the cost of suspense, horror or enthralling story telling. The identity of Jack can be worked out fairly obviously within the first 30 minutes and as a result ends up being quite mundane.
The performances are good from the more 'dependable' member of the cast such as Ian Holm and Robbie Coltrane. Coltrane is the only real stand-out performance as the gruff Sergeant Godley. Johnny Depp always seems to play angst ridden characters and he could have done this role in his sleep, he brings no sense of heroism to Abbeline's character whatsoever and as a result we don't really care about him or what happens to him. His Cockney accent is passable (just) unlike Heather Graham's Irish/Cockney/American accents - make a decision and stick to one accent per film please. She seems to have been cast on her merits in filling a corset (not necessarily a bad thing)- if they ever gave an Oscar for cleavage she'd win.
The film has been touted as one of the most horrific and gory of recent years, but apart from two very quick scenes, its will not please gore fans. It has implied horror done to much better effect in films such as Se7en but here it doesn't scare. People interested in the Jack The Ripper phenomenon will enjoy the theoretic approach, but most will find it a very unsatisfying movie generally. Based on one of the most popular 'Ripper' graphic novels, From Hell had a compelling source, but the film doesn't match up to the same standards. It may be wiser to stick to the graphic novel and give the film a wide berth.
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