From Hell (2001)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane, Ian Richardson, Jason Flemyng
Albert and Allen Hughes
The wife and I went to the video store to rent a movie, and quickly discovered that most of the new release DVDs available were utter shite. So, we decided to pick this up, so I could see and review another comic book movie. This marks my 11th comic book movie review, which is almost enough for its own index! But, we're probably going too index crazy when I'm suggesting sub-indexes for genres (and sub-genres), so we'll just let that idea slide.
For those who don't know, From Hell is an adaptation of the graphic novel by the same name, written by comics-god Alan Moore and with art by Eddie Campbell. Now, I've never read the graphic novel, so I won't be commenting on how well The Hughes Brothers adapted Moore's work. I will say this though, the movie certainly looks like a graphic novel, with its creepy rendition of late nineteenth century London, and its red painted skies.
This graphic novel stuff is important to note because one must realise that From Hell the movie isn't trying to be an accurate depiction of the history of Jack the Ripper, but rather an adaptation of a book that was a heavily-researched, but ultimately speculative fictional account on the story of Jack the Ripper. The movie isn't trying to be historically-accurate, but rather uses history as a context for its fictional narrative. Which doesn't mean that one can't be bothered when police officers carry flashlights or when they screw up a historical figure's actual title given the year of the story (1888), these are anachronisms that should've been correct. However, if someone is upset by the film's suggestions on the identity of Jack the Ripper or the fate of Mary Kelly, then they're missing the point of the fiction. The film isn't trying to be the definitive account of Jack the Ripper, but rather the telling of a theory, a "what if" tale as it were.
On to the film itself, From Hell is a gruesome telling of the Jack the Ripper story. Due to the nature of the story, it is gruesome and grim, and visually dynamic. I'd describe it as a moderately scary semi-horror movie for people (like myself) who don't watch horror movies. In watching the special features, it appears that the Hughes Brothers did a pretty good job matching scenes to the actual locations of the crimes in question, which makes the film a little more chilling in retrospect.
In terms of acting, Johnny Depp does a decent job as Inspector Fred Abberline, the chief investigator in the Ripper killings in White Chapel. He creates a character interesting enough that the audience is compelled to follow throughout the film, but nothing too spectacular. His co-star Heather Graham, playing prostitute and potential-Ripper victim Mary Kelly, is the weak link of the film, with a horrible accent and a useless romance sub-plot. It is obvious that she was cast to help open the film, and the character was fleshed out to humanise the victims. However, she is horribly out of place amongst the otherwise English cast (that being the actors not named Depp and Graham) and does little for the film other than look good (which, I don't mind, since she does look good. Perhaps a little too good for a nineteenth century whore). Joining Depp and Graham are Ian Holm as the Royal Family's physician-in-ordinary Sir William Gull and Robbie Coltrane as Sergeant Peter Godley.
I found the flick to be a fairly effective gothic horror movie, and enjoyed the theoretical explanation of Jack the Ripper's true identity and motives. The film has some genuinely creepy and horrifying moments, chief among them is the carriage the Ripper uses to bring himself to his victims, which is made at the same time ordinary and other-worldly through the use of shadows and sound. It has a very Sleepy Hollow-feel to it, which is always a little creepy.
However, the film is merely above average, as it does a few things very well, but nothing extraordinarily well. A good movie to check it if you're in the mood for some late 1800's England creepiness, but aren't expecting high art.