From Hell (2001)
Into the Depps of Victorian London
Walking the streets of London is hard going for Mary Kelly (Heather Graham) and her prostitute friends, dealing with the dirt and the thuggery as they walk in and out of shady alleys. But things take a turn for the worse for them when Martha Tabram (Samantha Spiro) is murdered and they soon realise that they are being targeted by someone. The murder comes to the attention of Whitechapel Police Inspector Frederick Abberline (Johnny Depp) whose investigations are often aided by his visions. But Abbeline's investigations become clouded as whilst sure there is something exceptionally dark going on he also falls for the red headed Mary.
I have a predisposition to be suspicious of movies which are rated highly and who feature an actor who receives blind enthusiasm from those who think it is impossible for them to star in a bad movie. As such with Johnny Depp in a lead role and a relatively high score on Imdb I was sceptical of how good "From Hell" really was or whether it a case that those whose enthusiasm for Depp knew no limits had skewered its real rating. As it turns out "From Hell" is a good movie, a contrived who done it which goes off on a tangent of possibility when it comes to the infamous Jack the Ripper but at the same time a movie which far too often feels distracted by the style over the telling of the story.
So as storylines go we are in classic who done it territory and as I said one which is built around the infamy of Jack the Ripper and who the cloaked killer of prostitutes could be. Without giving too much a way as there is a tangled web of corruption going on it does involve the Freemasons and a Royal cover up. It also gives us not only Abbeline a character inspired by an actual detective from the time but to complicate matters a love story between him and a prostitute. All of which comes together to create a reasonably intriguing who done it.
But "From Hell" seems to be more interested in the look and the performance rather than the storyline. As such we do have a fantastic visual recreation of the late 1880's but we also get a lot of gore, an almost salacious interest in showing the gruesome nature of the killings. It is not just the gruesome nature of the murders which grab your attention; a lobotomy procedure can be heard with stomach churning effect whilst the exploits of the prostitutes are also surprisingly detailed although these seem to be done in an intentionally dry, humorous manner. The thing is that at times the style and the look seem more important than needs be with scenes which draw on for no other reason than to entertain those who would struggle with a movie which favoured the narrative over the look.
There is of course the acting and in particular that of Johnny Depp who certainly delivers a character, employing a believable cockney accent or at least one which is more convincing than some of the other actors in particular Heather Graham whose accent as Mary wavers constantly. But whilst Depp certainly delivers character I find the style of the scenes built around him too focused on the character and the actor, almost pandering to the Depp fans who will enthuse over Depp's performance as a detective with drug issues.
What this all boils down to is that "From Hell" is an entertaining movie with an interesting take on the whole Jack the Ripper story all but one which is fictitious. But at times "From Hell" seems to be lost in its look and we have scenes which seem to drawn on purely out of a style need rather than because the storyline needed it.
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