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From Hell

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: From Hell

Starring: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham
Director: Allen Hughes
Rated: R
RunTime: 137 Minutes
Release Date: October 2001
Genres: Horror, Suspense

*Also starring: Ian Holm, Katrin Cartlidge, Robbie Coltrane, Jason Flemyng, Ian McNeice, Ian Richardson, Lesley Sharp, Annabelle Apsion

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
No Rating Supplied

"From Hell," the latest from the Hughes Brothers ("Menace II Society"), is a sumptuous adaptation of the acclaimed graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. Moore and Campbell (along with script writers Terry Hayes and Rafael Yglesais) take us back to the Whitechapel district of London in 1888, where elegance and coarseness co-reside and the well-to-do scurry along, casting furtive glances at the ungodly poor people working the cobblestone streets. Someone else is also working the streets. Jack the Ripper is in the middle of his legendary killing spree, luring neighborhood prostitutes with grapes, a rare and precious commodity, then committing surgical atrocities on their bodies.

The man in charge of the case is Scotland Yard Inspector Abberline (Johnny Depp), an opium addled man who derives at least some of his insights from drug visions. He and the disapproving, but loyal Sgt. Godley (Robbie Coltrane) serve as an ersatz Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, trying to unravel the mystifying case. Along the way, Abberline falls in love with working girl Mary Kelly (Heather Graham), unknowingly putting her in grave danger.

The case leads Abberline and Godley to some imposing areas, including the royal family and the secretive Order of Freemasons. Abberline comes up with a specific name and a detailed motive, but some very powerful individuals want to make sure that the name and motive will never reach the public.

The Hughes brothers, with a strong assist from cinematographer Peter Deming, have crafted a London that is grim and visually arresting. Shots of the city skyline are particularly impressive. The atmosphere is right, the mystery is strong and the threat is most certainly compelling. But all too often, I found myself simply observing the film rather than being immersed in it.

Part of the reason may be the Hughes' reverence for their source material. They seem so focused on capturing the look of the graphic novel that they give short shrift to other elements of the production. Johnny Depp plays an insular type that is fascinating to study, but difficult to relate to. As for the others working to solve the case, or just stay alive, each has built a substantial protective wall around themselves.

So despite its surrealistic motif, "From Hell" plays as primarily an academic exercise, engaging the eyes, ears and intellect, but not the heart. Given the graphic displays of gore and the monumentally perverse nature of Jack the Ripper, that isn't necessarily a negative. In this place, with these people, watching them clinically rather than becoming empathic may be the preferable thing to do.

Copyright 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott

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