director: allen & albert hughes
johnny depp, heather graham, ian holm, robbie coltrane
|.||Based on a comic book, Allen and Albert Hughes’ From
Hell does its source material proud, filling the screen with wildly
graphic, stylized images, rich, throbbing colour and a camera that sweep
down from the sooty skies of Victorian London to ominous subterranean depths.
But, like most films based on comic books -- or rather “graphic novels”, the preferred term for ambitious work like Alan Moore’s “From Hell” series -- it shortchanges us on characters and real dramatic tension. Our “troubled hero”, a renegade police inspector played by Johnny Depp, is basically Sherlock Holmes with psychic powers and goth eyeliner. As an imperiled East End street prostitute, Heather Graham is, to put it bluntly, far too pretty, a clear example of casting priorities overwhelming historical reality.
As a story about Jack the Ripper, From Hell is about as faithful to historical truth as any other film or book based on the horrific, legendary tale of the first modern serial killer. Since the Ripper was never caught, Moore and the Hughes Brothers -- like countless others before them -- are at liberty to imagine any fanciful version of the story, set in any wild variation of Victorian London.
Partly filmed in Prague, and partly assembled digitally, From Hell’s London is suitably sinister and dank, all wet cobblestones and rolling fog. Like most Ripper stories, there’s a royal connection, and a suggestion of conspiracy engineered from the highest levels of society. In From Hell, the conspiracy implicates a shadowy group so notorious that they’ve even been a gag on "The Simpsons". (“Freemasons rule the country!” Sorry for giving it away, but it’s hardly the most subtle of plot points.)
The romance between Depp and Graham seems obligatory, and its lack of resonance shortchanges an ending that was supposed to be tragic. Graham herself is surrounded by a group of British and Irish actresses, including Katrin Cartlidge and Susan Lynch, any of whom might have played her role with more depth and believability, should the directors have risked making a film that amounted to more than animation without drawings.