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From Hell: Death and Disappointment - Movie Forums
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From Hell: Death and Disappointment

Rating: 3
By thmilin
thmilin's Avatar

Posted on 10/26/01

Was it worth your nine bucks? Yes. This is a film you should see on the big screen with loud speakers so you can hear all the gore and see the late 1800s in all their glory. Will it gross you out? Maybe once or twice. Overall, however, the film has more of a slick-looking package than it has content. Some of you may find the revelation of the murderer's identity pretty disappointing. That, combined with the overall conclusion makes for a rather blah story and some mildly intriguing cinematography and art direction.

Johnny Depp (Inspector Abberline) once again plays a gaunt outsider, trying to glean information about particularly gruesome murders in London. He plays the part well, though obviously his accent - as you may have gathered from the trailer - leaves much to be desired. His talkative, Shakespeare quoting sidekick, Sgt. Godley (Robbie Coltrane) provides humor and a touch of humanity and warmth to the austere, corrupt world of wealth versus “unfortunates,” and the policing middleman. The policemen of London walk a fine line - for ideally their presence should protect victims and capture criminals, when in reality they exist on and by the approval of the upper classes. Abberline and Godley's sincerity and belief in the work they do is rare and very believable.

We all know the story. At the turn of the century an unknown killer took a still uncertain number of lives in a most violent, precise, and inhuman manner with a lust for the act. Modern society had never seen anything like it and has sadly come to see it time and time again. The phrase “From Hell,” taken from a letter supposedly penned by Jack the Ripper, is the running theme of the film - dark shadows, grime, grit, cruelty, irrational behavior, and a blood red London sky - this is the Industrial Age, a world of pollution, struggling, and suffering. The mood is carried extremely well; the ignorance of hygiene, and a lack of humanity in the squalor of London are captured perfectly in costumes, scenery, and just about every scene. Darkness is everywhere, even among the homes of the upper class. The social dynamics between policemen and lowlifes, “unfortunates” and the fortunate, among and between the sexes, is painted very well.

Local prostitutes, including the unnaturally fair and pretty-toothed Mary Kelly (Heather Graham), eke out their existence and have no trust for the upper classes or their ineffectual police forces. Abberline comes along and tries to win their trust in order to learn more about the murderer as he zeroes in on forensic details with the help of his visions, spurred on by various poisons - absinthe, and two forms of opium (smoking, and laudanum). Naturally, a romance between the taboo street urchin and the outcast visionary develops. It could have been developed more thoroughly and less as a gut reaction, so this was a rather weak point of the film. Considering the film's developments it was rather a disappointment to see how their relationship traverses.

The conspiracy theories regarding Jack the Ripper are also a tad knee-jerk and convoluted. The painting of a conspiracy depends too much on impressive mystery men sweeping suddenly into rooms, peering from the darkness, flashing fancy jewelry, riding about in hell-bound carriages, and knocking out Abberline when his back is turned. While the film is based on Moore's graphic novel, it's a film, not a Saturday morning cartoon. Depending on such scenes alone to create the mood and cement the twists depends too much on clich and not enough on content - and visuals alone are not going to do the work for the filmmakers. That at first seems to be a rather fascinating twist linking the Royal Family and a cult-like order of aristocrats serving a higher purpose falls soon into overwrought drama. One would argue that that's what the film should be, but when it gets to a point where you can predict every move and crack jokes at the nature of things - then, it's too much.

There are in fact quite a few visual tricks used and most were either in excess of what was needed, or not required at all. Only one such a scene really moved me - when they've found a victim and time passes quickly to show the crowd coming and going around the body along the street. This scene captured the cold, grey timelessness and alienation that these people lived in and the unfeeling nature of their lives and their environment.

The ending brings the conspiracy to a pretty anticlimactic end - by this time foreshadowing “hints” pointing to the killer have beat you over the head. Jack is shown eating a bloody meal, conversing with his nervous henchmen, and is fully exposed at the close - sensationalist touches that were entirely unnecessary. Our hero Abberline has yet to prove effectual against anybody, has failed to help most people, let alone himself. There are reportedly two endings to this film, and the one they chose did not help my mood after the disappointing case conclusion. Perhaps this was the filmmakers' last smack with the “hell” theory - but by then, we've had plenty and are looking for at least one good thing to happen.

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