From Hell (2001) features Johnny Depp as Inspector Frederick Abberline who becomes involved in the Jack The Ripper case in London in 1888. The film is loosely based on the comic book series by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell that ran from 1989 to 1996 and focuses on one theory that the murders were part of a larger conspiracy to cover up the birth of an illegitimate heir to the British throne.
Released in 2001 the film also features Robbie Coltrane as Abberline’s right hand man Sergeant Peter Godley, Heather Graham as Mary Kelly, and Ian Holm as Sir William Gull a physician to the Royal family. I originally saw this film in 2001 at the Toronto International Film Festival on the morning of September 11th as the tragic events of that day were unfolding. I always wondered if my feeling of detachment from the film was in part due to the events of that day and my inability to focus on the film. After that screening the Festival annouced they were suspending screenings for the remainder of the day to allow people to deal with the repercussions of the attack and out of respect for the dead and missing.
Re-watching it 13 years later, I found that I still did not connect with the film or its content in a way that I would have expected. The Hughes Brothers (Menace II Society, Dead Presidents) do an admirable job directing and the film is stylish and lush to look at, but something is lost in the delivery. The immediacy of the story and the personal stakes of the characters involved never draw me in to the point that I get caught up in the story and forget I am watching a movie. There’s a certain detachment for me that is cross between watching a police drama and a horror story that is focused on the gruesome nature of the crimes.
Johnny’s Depp performance is solid in this movie despite the questionable cockney accent that he employs. Depp’s character Inspector Abberline has visions of the murders that lead him deeper into the conspiracy. Personally I didn’t feel that the visions added anything to the plot and would have been more impressed if it Abberline’s obsession and determination to do the hard detective work was what drove him to solve the case.
I generally like Depp in period pieces such as Dead Man, Sleepy Hollow, and Sweeny Todd to name a few, but for some reason From Hell didn’t click with me and sadly falls fairly far down my list of Depp films.