In Victorian London, a vicious killer of prostitutes stalks the streets of Whitechapel, a man who has come to be known as Jack the Ripper. Inspector Abberline (Johnny Depp) makes it his mission to track down the murderer and finds himself personally involved in crimes that reach every level of society...
From Hell, yet another version of the Jack the Ripper story, was adapted by Terry Hayes and Rafael Yglesias, who turn Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's epic comic book into a whodunnit. It presents the case as a grand conspiracy that takes in the Police, the Freemasons, Royalty, the medical establishment and the persecution of the Jews.
In tackling Moore's densely packed narrative, the film tries to cram in as much of the comic's detail as possible, not always to great effect. Although the scale of the conspiracy is well handled, the story feels cluttered as just about every fact of the case (and a few myths as well) are included. The Hughes brothers revel in the Victorian hypocrisy, and the film is very definitely on the side of the underclass, with the victims all fitting the traditional "tart with a heart" stereotype.
Abberline himself is an opium-addicted and absinthe-drinking psychic, whose visions supposedly help him gain insight into the case, but seem to largely comprise of edited highlights of the murders. The film is uncertain whether it should be grim and gritty or glossy and stylish, meaning you're more likely to be taken in by Peter Deming's elegant camerawork and the production design than shocked by the degradation on display. In fact, the atmosphere is more druggy than dreamlike, which implies the action is taking place in Abberline's head.
Whenever an actor takes on a different accent, the results can be jarring: Heather Graham, as a bottle-redhaired Mary Kelly, isn't quite as bad as you might think (though not particularly Irish, it has to be said), but Depp's attempt at cockney makes him sound like David Beckham. The rest of the cast are well chosen, particularly Ian Holm as the surgeon who assists Abberline in tracking down the killer.
I don't know whether there has ever been a really great Jack the Ripper movie, but there's no denying the continuing fascination with the murders. From Hell presents a solution to the case that mixes fiction with fact because the truth is we will never know why those women were killed, which not only gives the case its power but allows plenty of room for speculation, however fanciful it may be. It's a pity the book's last chapter was omitted, which shows the spirit of the Ripper travelling through time, emphasising the claim that he "gave birth to the 20th Century". Watch for: the Elephant Man. Music by Trevor Jones.
American director of socially conscious thrillers, usually with his twin brother Albert. Menace II Society and Dead Presidents were violent urban crime stories, but with From Hell they transported their style to Victorian England for a Jack the Ripper tale. They both returned after too long away in 2010 with religious sci-fi The Book of Eli.
Albert Hughes (1972 - )
American director of socially conscious thrillers, usually with his twin brother Allen. Menace II Society and Dead Presidents were violent urban crime stories, but with From Hell they transported their style to Victorian England for a Jack the Ripper tale. They both returned after too long away in 2010 with religious sci-fi The Book of Eli and Albert set out on his own in 2018 with prehistoric doggy story Alpha.