It is 1888 in London, and the unfortunate poor lead horrifying lives in the city's deadliest slum, Whitechapel. Harassed by gangs and forced to walk the streets for a living, Mary Kelly and her small group of companions trudge on through this daily misery, their only consolation being that things can't get any worse. Yet things somehow do when their friend Ann is kidnapped and they are drawn into a conspiracy with links higher up than they could possibly imagine. The kidnapping is soon followed by the gruesome murder of another woman, Polly, and it becomes apparent that they are being hunted down, one by one. Sinister even by Whitechapel standards, the murder grabs the attention of Inspector Fred Abberline, a brilliant yet troubled man whose police work is often aided by his psychic abilities. Abberline becomes deeply involved with the case, which takes on personal meaning to him when he and Mary begin to fall in love. But as he gets closer to the truth, Whitechapel becomes more and ...
Interesting spin on the tale, if not particularly memorable
"From Hell" is an interesting spin on the familiar Jack the Ripper tale, using the iconic cultural image of the cloaked man with the top hat as the source for a spin-off not of history, but of a graphic novel.
The lead performance by Johnny Depp as Inspector Abberline (who really existed in 1888 at the time of the murders and really was an authority on the case) is wonderful. Depp nails the cockney accent perfectly. Unfortunately, Heather Graham -- as the prostitute Mary Kelley -- is not as fortunate. Although her accent seems to improve throughout the film at various intervals, for most of "From Hell's" duration her British voice is quite stiff and the American twang is audible. The Hughes Brothers did not choose Graham for her acting abilities.
That said, the set design on this production is magnificent. 1880s London is brought to life and Whitechapel has never looked more realistic. The film is an odd hybrid of genres because it maintains the look and feel of a slasher film whilst presenting historical elements and painstaking recreations of actual murders. Robbie Coltrane, as one of the police officers involved in the case, has a lot of fun with his character and is fun to watch, and similarly as convincing as the scenery.
This is a very gritty and gory film -- more so than I ever expected. It's quite a strange beast with hallucinogenic visuals, horror elements and history thrown in for good measure, on top of some slightly modernized techniques. All in all this film kept me entertained because it was unique, and very different, and not particularly because it was "great." I didn't expect a whole lot, but I felt that the movie was directed as ably as it could (or should) have been and the performance by Johnny Depp was deserving of a better film. The ending got a bit carried away, but it still presents a pretty cool twist on the whole Jack the Ripper scenario without totally insulting the intelligence or even upsetting one's sense of history. (Like Disney's "Pocahontas.") The respect the filmmakers have for their material shines through and elevates this above what it could have been. Definitely worth seeing, if only for its originality.
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