Some characters are so compelling that their stories are
made into movies over and over again. Many are about legendary figures
of the distant past like King Arthur (42 movies) and Joan of Arc (13 movies)
or more recent historical figures like Abraham Lincoln (75 movies).
One character that is both recent and legendary is Jack the Ripper (23
movies). His appeal flows from the horror of his crimes along with
the fact that he was never apprehended which frees screenwriters to imagine
almost anything. From Hell is the latest film to feature the
story of Jack the Ripper. This film traces the traditional ``facts"
of the case where someone murders a series of prostitutes in the Whitechapel
section of London in 1888. These facts include clues that seem to
link the murders to a surgeon, a member of the Royal family, and the Freemasons.
In From Hell, the Ripper story is seen through the eyes of a police
inspector (Johnny Depp) and a prostitute (Heather Graham). Their
characters are based on actual people involved in the case. Depp
Abberline , one the police assigned to the case, and Graham is Mary
Kelly, the last victim. By telling you this little fact, I'm
not giving away anything about the ending of From Hell. This
film does a very nice job of recreating the not-so-nice parts of London
of the late 19th century. Of course, as is typical of such movies,
this backdrop is inhabited by characters that would be more comfortable
in the 21st century. Therefore, Depp is a very sensitive guy who
has had some severe personal problems and as a result is an opium addict.
But he is a nice quiet drug addict and while under the influence, he has
visions of the murders. Similarly, Mary Kelly is a beautiful young
woman who just wants to live the quiet life back home in Ireland.
Needless to say, these two sensitive souls fall in love over the pools
of blood. Yes, there is a fair amount of blood and gore. The directors,
the Hughes brothers, hold back pretty well for the first half of the movie
but during the last twenty minutes or so, the blood is flying. I
closed my eyes several times. Despite all this, From Hell
is very flat and emotionless. Maybe we are supposed to be seeing
the action through the eyes of people suffering from post-traumatic stress
syndrome who are repressing their feelings or maybe it's just flat.
Depp and Graham are both good and of course, look good. But they
don't get to emote much here. Robbie Coltrane does a nice job
Godley who tries to keep Depp on the case and out of the opium dens.
Ian Holm is excellent as the royal surgeon who Depp consults about the
murders. You see Holm and he looks so familiar. He has appeared
in many character roles, most memorably as the running coach in Chariots
of Fire and as the Android in Alien.
Holm and Coltrane will be seen soon in more high-profile roles. Holm
is playing Bilbo Baggins in The
Lord of the Rings and Coltrane plays Hagrid in Harry
Potter. Until Jack the Ripper is revealed toward the end of the
movie (note how I don't give it away), he is represented by a scary
horse-drawn coach with green lanterns with a very scary set of steps that
drop down every time Jack heads off to slice someone up. And, surprise,
surprise, there is a surprise ending. From Hell is worth seeing
if you like Ripper-esque films or if you just like the sight of a couple
of good-looking stars on the big screen.