Based on a series of comic books, From Hell actually focuses on an investigator named Abberline (Johnny Depp), who works the lower-class Whitechapel district of London in 1888. Abberline, in keeping with the presumably sacred rule that any character Depp embodies must be a nutjob, is a Laudanum addict, drinks Absinthe, and has bizarre visions in his sleep that portend Jack's next victim. If only he'd been born a century later, he could have had his own 1-900 number.
Jack plies his trade on a clutch of hookers, each murder more gruesome than the last, while he leaves bizarre clues for the cops. On the trail of the killer, Abberline rubs elbows with a physician (Ian Holm), who points him in the direction of royalty as the suspect, while he also starts to fall for one of the hookers (Heather Graham) -- of course the only pretty one among the quintet.
While From Hell (the title refers to the return address on Jack's letter to the cops) is told with a certain flair -- some will find it stylish, others are sure to find it nauseating and gimmicky -- it nonetheless turns a gripping, true story into something tired and predictable. There's not a lot of thrill or mystery to be had here -- instead of showing us what the police work of 1888 looks like we are treated to an endless series of Abberline's visions, which send him running to one corner after another, always too late to do any good. The whole investigation is utter nonsense. Worse than the lack of suspense, though, is the lack of anything even remotely scary -- even the murder sequences are shown in shadow with just a flash of blade and a spurt of blood. Boring, really.
Likewise, Depp and Graham seem more occupied with their outrageous accents (his Cockney, hers Irish) than in building their characters. As a result, when the two develop a love affair, it elicits giggles from the audience instead of coos.
I find myself surprisingly mute on the remainder of From Hell. It isn't bad, but it certainly isn't good -- it's just kind of there, this tale of a murderer ending up as lifeless as one of his victims. I'm sure it will generate a healthy cult following (and a fair amount of hate mail for me), but most viewers will be sorely disappointed.
Run time: 122 mins
In Theaters: Friday 19th October 2001
Box Office USA: $30.7M
Box Office Worldwide: $74.6M
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Production compaines: 20th Century Fox
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 57%
Fresh: 86 Rotten: 64
IMDB: 6.8 / 10
Starring: Johnny Depp as Inspector Frederick Abberline, Heather Graham as Mary Kelly, Ian Holm as Sir William Gull, Robbie Coltrane as Sergeant Peter Godley, Ian Richardson as Sir Charles Warren, Jason Flemyng as Netley, the Coachman, Katrin Cartlidge as Dark Annie Chapman, Terence Harvey as Benjamin 'Ben' Kidney, Susan Lynch as Liz Stride, Paul Rhys as Dr. Ferral, Lesley Sharp as Kate Eddowes, Estelle Skornik as Ada, Nicholas McGaughey as Officer Bolt, Annabelle Apsion as Polly Nichols, Joanna Page as Ann Crook
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