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From Hell
Directed by Albert & Allen Hughes

Starring: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm, Paul Rhys
Running Time: 2:01
Country: USA
Year: 2001
Web: Official Site
Johnny Depp and Heather Graham star in From Hell, a Hughes Brothers film about hunting down Jack the Ripper in late 19th century London.

Stylish and moody with mixed acting and a promising twist in solving the murders, the film suffers from being overly long, weak plot lines. A thriller that's not very thrilling also diminishes its power.

Depp plays Inspector Fred Abberline. Though heartily addicted to opium he has a knack for analyzing evidence and is guided by visions. In trying to track down the killer who is viciously murdering a group of prostitutes one by one, he meets up with Mary Kelly (Heather Graham), the only cherubic non- haggard whore in the bunch who has great penmanship and a heart of gold. A not so convincing love story between Graham and Depp is more implausible than the premise that the killings occur to protect the English royal family.

Inspector Abberline is aided by his faithful Sgt.Godley (Robbie Coltrane) and the creepy Sir William Gull (Ian Holm) a royal physician who helps him uncover more than a few mysteries. The murders themselves, while violent, are not particularly chilling. Since they are played out repeatedly, it's difficult to remain intrigued after 90 minutes.

The cinematography is beautiful and dark and evokes a London caught between two classes. From the opium dens Abberline frequents to the cobblestoned streets, the Hughes Brothers have an eye for the artistic versus the blockbuster. However, as a thriller the pace is much too turtle-like to sustain interest.

This film could have been shortened in a number of ways.

    1) Eliminate the love story. Graham is no Kate Winslet (her accent is grating) and is a poor match for Depp even if she can write love letters.

    2) Speed the killings up. There are six prostitutes who have a hit on them and the killings always take place in the same fashion. Carriage pulls up, man offers grapes and spiked drink, and then they're wacked! Since Depp knows that they are being offered grapes (the rich man's food), he could have shared this information with the survivors but he never does.

    3) We know Graham won't die, so the whole scene of mistaken identity just wastes time. In an aside, Depp tells her to hide for a few days and not to tell him where she is. When he hears of the latest murder, he runs straight to her hideout! Of course, he is a visionary but this is too much. As is the side story involving the lesbian prostitute.

Despite some shortcomings, From Hell is still worth watching if only for Depp's performance. Whether he's a river rat (Chocolat), a gypsy (The Man who Cried), a drug kingpin (Blow) or constable (Sleepy Hollow), he creates an entire world with his character. An opium-addicted detective is just another character to add to his many. The end of the film may startle some, but it is in line with his character and conveys the inherent sense of honor in many of Depp's characters.

The Hughes Brothers create an evocative, dark world in From Hell that doesn't shy away from class problems. Unfortunately it doesn't work as a thriller.


  Anji Milanovic

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From Hell