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(2001) (Johnny Depp, Heather Graham) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: An English inspector tries to identify, find and then stop Jack the Ripper before he strikes again.
It's the fall of 1888 in London's Whitechapel district and someone's murdering prostitutes. Roused from an opium-induced stupor by his assistant, Sgt. Peter Godley (ROBBIE COLTRANE), Inspector Fred Abberline (JOHNNY DEPP) sets out to crack the case. Still reeling from his wife and newborn child's deaths and gifted and/or cursed with somewhat clairvoyant visions, Abberline quickly surmises that the killer's butchering of his first victim is not the work of any ordinary, lowlife criminal, but that of a well-to-do and apparently medically educated man.

His superior, Sir Charles Warren (IAN RICHARDSON), thinks this is nonsense, and many of the various hookers, including Mary Kelly (HEATHER GRAHAM) and her friends and associates Kate Eddowes (LESLEY SHARP), Liz Stride (SUSAN LYNCH), Polly (ANNABELLE APSION) and Dark Annie Chapman (KATRIN CARTLIDGE), believe the culprit to be a local thug who's extorting them.

Nevertheless, Abberline pursues his beliefs that lead him to Sir William Gull (IAN HOLM), an older physician who now teaches rather than practices medicine and supports the inspector's theory. As the prostitutes continue to be lured in by the killer's henchman, Netley (JASON FLEMYNG), and Abberline investigates various suspects, including Ben Kidney (TERENCE HARVEY), the inspector finds himself falling for Mary as he tries to find, identify and stop the killer - known as Jack the Ripper -- before it's too late.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Although there were plenty of mass murderers before him and obviously many more after him, few garnered as much attention - both then and still today - as Jack the Ripper. Terrorizing the Whitechapel district of London in the fall of 1888, the Ripper quickly become notorious not only due to the grotesque nature of the crimes - that "only" numbered five in total - but also because he escaped into history with his identity still masked in obscurity.

More than a hundred years later, several questions still remain about "Jack," most notably who he was, but also why he killed - i.e. what motivated him - and why he stopped. Many theories have been formulated over the years addressing those curiosities, while various films have been made on the subject, or at least used it a jumping board and/or intriguing part of their story.

My favorite still remains "Time After Time" where Jack - terrifically played by David Warner - escapes into present day San Francisco, only to be pursued by H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) after escaping in the latter's real time machine.

Writer Alan Moore and illustrator Eddie Campbell had different views and visions of the character in their graphic novel "From Hell" that was originally published as a ten-part series in the anthology periodical Taboo. Their work has now been adapted for the big screen by scribes Terry Hayes ("Dead Calm," "The Road Warrior") and Rafael Yglesias ("Fearless," "Death and the Maiden") for this week's film of the same name.

As helmed by co-directors and siblings Allen and Albert Hughes ("Dead Presidents," "Menace II Society"), the film is an incredibly graphic version of the tale, taken from a rather intriguing point of view detailing the motivation behind the crimes and the lives of the lower class victims affected by them.

While the real acts were no doubt obviously gruesome - especially for the time - viewers may be surprised by the degree of brutality and bloodletting on view here, although those familiar with the directors' previous gritty works will probably be expecting it.

What won't be surprising to most viewers is the identity of the killer, a point the filmmakers seemingly felt obligated and/or forced to reveal, but which does nothing for the story and in fact lessens its impact. Although most mainstream moviegoers demand such revelations - or the powers that be think that's the case for purposes of closure - the film would have been better had the killer's identity - as in real life - remained anonymous.

That's not only because it's too easy to figure out - despite the inclusion of some red herring characters in an attempt to throw off the viewer - but also because the story really belongs to the main character. He's played by Johnny Depp ("Chocolate," "Edward Scissorhands") who creates an interesting being out of Inspector Abberline - a flawed figure who's assigned to crack the case.

Rather reminiscent of the character he played in "Sleepy Hollow," Depp's Abberline is ahead of his time as far as investigatory procedures and thinking are concerned, and the actor - as usual - brings a great deal of interest to his character, far more than the script provided by itself. While flawed characters, by default, are always more fun to watch than "normal" ones, Depp constantly makes this one both intriguing and engaging.

Not as successful is Heather Graham ("Sidewalks of New York" "Say It Isn't So") as one of the district's many hookers trying to make a living and avoid the killer. While she has the dramatic range for the role, Graham simply doesn't look, feel or otherwise come off right for the part. Instead of being one of the hookers, she feels and looks like a glamorous Hollywood actress playing one. Accordingly, she stands out from the other actresses - such as Susan Lynch ("Beautiful Creatures," "Waking Ned Devine") and Katrin Cartlidge ("Breaking the Waves," "Career Girls") - who embody similar characters.

In addition, the chemistry between her and Depp's character feels forced - as does their overall romantic relationship - although one can see why Abberline would choose her as she looks like a Hollywood actress, even if they didn't yet exist in the late 19th century.

Supporting performances among the male characters are generally okay, with Robbie Coltrane ("The World Is Not Enough," "Message in a Bottle") and Ian Holm ("The Sweet Hereafter," "Big Night") being the most prominent actors playing those who assist the inspector in different ways. Other characters are simply too obvious in their red herring roles - being too evil, mean or just plain snooty - while the more regular guys are obviously the likely suspects.

Despite the story's various flaws, the Hughes brothers certainly create and/or evoke the proper, eerie and creepy mode - with the Whitechapel district being painstakingly re-created and cinematographer Peter Deming's ("Mulholland Drive," "Music of the Heart") visuals coming off as nothing short of striking.

Clearly not for the squeamish but obviously intriguing for its theory about the killer's identity and motivation, "From Hell" might not be a perfect film - in fact, it's a ways from it - but it's nevertheless mostly engaging from start to finish. The film rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed October 12, 2001 / Posted October 19, 2001

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