Thursday, December 8, 2011

From Hell

By s. Thursday, December 8, 2011 , , , , , , , ,
73/100 (122 min, 2001)
Plot: In Victorian Era London, a troubled clairvoyant police detective investigates the murders by Jack The Ripper.
Directors: Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes
Writers: Alan Moore (graphic novel), Eddie Campbell (graphic novel)
Stars: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham and Ian Holm

Only the Legend Will Survive

Jack the Ripper is perhaps the most famous murderer in the history. Oddly enough, there aren't many good movies made about him and "From Hell" is an exception for that rule - although Jack Ripper is a supporting character in the film and the movie is quite far from being a masterpiece, it has an unique ambiance and gives the audience inside look behind the crimes of the legendary criminal.

"From Hell" takes its title from the famous letter sent to the police, probably by the Jack Ripper himself, which was contained in the small box along with half of human kidney. The letter was signed "From hell". The movie is an adaptation of Alan Moore's comic book of the same title - it is quite disappointing, though, that so many changes were made to the source material - fortunately, much like "American Psycho", what "From Hell" lacks in substance, makes up for in style, often suggesting things that we don't see on screen with a shot or a line of dialogue.
photograph of the original "From Hell" letter
"From Hell", although being based on comic book and presenting only one of the theories, gets a lot of details from the actual story right - the directors even used authentic pictures of the bodies and at various points of the movie actual words from real police reports are being spoken. The film follows famous detective Abberline, who was assigned to Ripper's case. Played by Johnny Depp quite convincingly - and in a subdued way which is unusual for Depp - Abberline has suffered a personal loss and is slowly descending into darkness of his own - the world of drugs and evanescent delights. He is chasing the dragon as eagerly as he is chasing the killer - when Abberline is under the influence of opium he has peculiar visions regarding the murders that allow him to get very close to solving the mystery.

In the process of investigation Abberline falls for red haired hooker, Mary Kelley. The romance was quite unnecessary in the movie, it gave us nice, bittersweet ending and Depp and Heather Graham had interesting chemistry together, but it takes the movie away from its most fascinating aspect -- the killer. The film depicts only one of the theories about who Jack the Ripper really was - the theory is nicely crafted and plausible, but not enough depth is given to the character that turns out to be ruthless killer which leaves you quite unmoved by the time the film is over. I think that the romance arc was added to get the audience to sympathize with the protagonists - the move that was quite redundant - I for one had no problem sympathizing with smart and witty Abberline. As for Mary Kelley, Graham who really is not much of an actress is usually horribly annoying, but fortunately her character here has some decent lines that save her from oblivion and indifference in the eyes of the viewers.
The killings, as violently and interestingly shown as they are, leave a lot to be desired -  you would think that in the year 2001 the creators will have a bit more courage. Ironically, in the movie about Jack the Ripper, there is very little of ripping. We only see gore in split second moments or we hear about it from the characters' lines.If there ever was a movie that needed more gore it's this one - I heard that people got sick watching "From Hell". What? Good Lord, "Shaun of the Dead" had more blood in it. Apparently the producers were aware that they are compromising for the sake of different rating and more money -  they feared an NC-17 rating had they actually shown a body of the last victim, who was found with both breasts severed, every facial feature slashed and torn, and the belly cut open. Furthermore, her intestines were hung about the room like Christmas garlands. The picture of the actual victim is reportedly in every book about Jack the Ripper, hell, it appears on the first page when you type it in Google. As for the producers' decision - that's quite all right to imply something like this and move on without showing it, however mesmerizing this scene may have been if made according to the truth, but actually, through entire movie we don't get to see any killings in the form other than few swings of the blade in the darkness.
However, the movie is one of the most atmospheric and stylish films made in the last decade and with all its flaws and mistakes, that alone makes it worth watching - Prague is masquerading as Victorian London superbly - everything looks amazing and brings Coppola's "Dracula" to mind, with the red sky, Gothic architecture and women wearing colorful dresses that stand out in the grayish surroundings. Abberline's visions are consistent with the colors of absinthe - the background is always vividly green, there are bubbles of dissolving sugar appearing in the frame, as the blood swims through his visions and screams of Ripper's victims break the silence. The score for the film is great - made by Trevor Jones, the author of one of my favorite scores - for "Angel Heart" - it's both beautiful and creepy.

"From Hell" will not give you a big picture about the Ripper case, but it's a lovely depiction of social and cultural trends of Victorian times. There are many details, that built that picture - even Elephant Man makes a quick appearance. With all its flaws and mistakes, "From Hell" is a good film and it's certainly interesting - because of rich visual side it feels like an LSD fueled trip to the past.

1 comment:

  1. I really like this movie; mainly because I am such a Ripper fan and I think it was a job well done by the Hughes Brothers (who I have given a shout out to on my blog).

    Good review!