From Hell

Movie Review by Susannah Macklin

Starring: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm, Jason Flemyng, Robbie Coltrane
Directors: Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes

Brothers Allen and Albert Hughes spent the past 7 years developing this project. Based on Alan Moore’s popular and dark Jack the Ripper graphic novel of the same name, it’s essentially a string of ‘grassy knoll’ style conspiracy theories surrounding the notorious Whitechapel (London) serial killer. It’s a fresh change of direction for the Hughes Brothers (MENACE II SOCIETY), previously acclaimed for their precocious talents in portraying LA gangland. However the grim realities shown in FROM HELL lie close to the heart of previous projects.

Johnny Depp plays Inspector Abberline of Scotland yard who famously spent most of his career trying to track down the notorious murderer. Abberline is caught between a seedy underworld and dank grim 1800 East End London – spending his time in opium dens or on the streets desperately trying to solve the mystery of the grisly killings. With the help of Royal Physician, William Gull (Ian Holm), Abberline begins to piece the clues together and believes the butcherings to be the work of a highly educated man with a motive. However he must establish a connection. Abberline is led to a group of prostitutes who are being picked off one by one, and meets Mary Kelly (Heather Graham) who scared for her own life, is trying to do all she can to keep out of trouble. With Kelly’s help perhaps Abberline can learn the identity of the ripper. But can he solve the mystery before Kelly becomes the next target, and is the culprit really more distinguished than the chief of police would have the public believe?

Although it’s not awful, this is a movie with many confusions brought about mainly through the casting and a few minor script misdemeanours. The Hughes perfectly portray the gothic horror of the legend and the direction captures the essence of the original comic style strips. However they made a massive mistake in their casting of the role of Mary Kelly and should have stuck with their original plan to put a British unknown in the part. Although Graham undeniably looks good in the role – her execution of the part stinks, bringing to the movie a ‘just made in Hollywood’ element that smacks of Robert Altman’s studio ribbing in THE PLAYER. Both Graham’s and Depp’s looks are misplaced in playing a tough street prostitute and a hard drinking opium addicted cop from harsh 1800 London town. Although obviously integral for there to be a believable love story – it’s so thin – that it wouldn’t have mattered if they had cast Cathy Burke and Bob Hoskins.

It’s a shame that a film so anticipated by such a talented directing team could be described as partially laughable. It’s perhaps also a sad sign of our times that the only element in this movie to arouse feelings of true horror and terror – is the acting. A total letdown.

2 out of 6 stars

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