Retro Review: From Hell

In the late 1880’s, a lone man held a city in his grasp with fear, torture and murder. The city was London and the man was only known as Jack.

Johnny Depp stars as Insp. Fred Abberline, a reclusive and methodical detective who harbors a tormented past. Abberline ends up in the wrong place at the right time, deep in the heart of London’s White Chapel district. Abberline becomes caught up in the “Jack the Ripper” murders and the plight of London’s women of the night, which include Mary Kelly (Heather Graham). It seems that the “Ripper” is focusing on Mary’s cropping of friends. The mystery deepens and the murders become more intense as Abberline must give up every ounce he has left in his mortal soul to bring in the “Ripper”.

The film’s title is derived from the return address penned on the “Ripper” letters to the police of London. The Hughes Brothers, who directed this film, bring us knee-deep into the hell so that they can tell their story. From the flaming skies of London’s evening skies to the animal lusts of the people in the alleys of White Chapel, hell is definitely evident. The Brothers’ direction is so intense at times that I felt I could smell the decaying corpses of the slain women. But for these directors that wasn’t enough as they showed the killings with oodles and oodles of blood. You never fully see the “Ripper’s” blade pierce his victim’s flesh but it’s what you don’t see and know that makes your stomach upset. This grotesque direction makes the film powerful but will definitely make you think twice about having another handful of popcorn.

Within this macabre fest is a brilliant performance by Johnny Depp who continues to impress me with every film he does. He is one of the best actors of his generation. He has the encompassing power to electrify an audience with a look or expression.

The character of Abberline has a lot of similarities to other characters Depp has played but here he is able to bring a new angle on an old concept. It is flawless.

The saddest thing about the film is the casting of Heather Graham. Graham is way out of her element and proves she has a tough time adapting to challenging roles. Behind the eyes of Graham there is no depth and this is really needed if she is supposed to be the film’s leading lady. I really had a hard time seeing her being able to fall in love Depp’s Abberline.

The character of Mary needed an actress who could display sensuality, torment, and an ounce of innocence in her scenes with Abberline. Graham couldn’t do any of them. She was excellent in “Boogie Nights” but I haven’t really seen her in anything since that shows that she can display the detailed emotions needed to flesh out Mary further. It is also hard to take her performance when her accent flickers instead of sticking.

I found the blood and gore very rich and very gratuitous. I know its great to have as much realism when doing a historical film but there is such thing as overkill. I really liked the mystery of the case and the performance of Depp but that is about all. The film displays a very bold, clever and interesting take on the “Ripper” murders even if it’s not the theory I fully believe.

This film will definitely alienate some moviegoers.

3.5 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer.

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