From Hell

on October 19, 2001 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
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The murder by Jack the Ripper of five London prostitutes in Whitechapel in 1888 remains one of the most enthralling criminal cases of all time. And because the Ripper was never caught or exposed, numerous theories have resonated as to his identity. Filmmakers Allen and Albert Hughes ("Menace II Society") have taken the tale and put an impressive, chilling spin on it, resulting in one of the best horror movies of recent years.

   Based on Alan Moore's highly-acclaimed graphic novel, "From Hell" blends Royal intrigue, political plotting and prejudicial views of the day to create a gripping, sophisticated portrait of a London populated by despised whores and immigrants and run by the upper classes who do what they will with impunity. Only Inspector Fred Abberline (Johnny Depp), a Sherlock Holmes with psychic visions of the murders, cares enough to do anything about the killings. To solve the murders, however, he will run up against secret societies, anti-Semitic beliefs, and his own feelings for one of the prostitutes, Mary Kelly (Heather Graham).

   Moore's comic is actually a spare black-and-white novel, with much background on all the characters and their relationships. The Hughes brothers have jettisoned much of the backstories but not their details--the 19th Century London of the film feels eerily genuine--and with the aid of Peter Deming's ravishing cinematography, have actually captured the look of another Moore graphic novel, the stunning science fiction/super-hero tale, "Watchmen."

   The beauty of "From Hell," however, lies less in its rich appearance than in its intelligent subtext. As Abberline, who hides his inner pain behind a stoic mask, Depp is customarily superb, essaying a flawless Cockney accent. Graham is equally fine as the bewitching Kelly. (Only her porcelain prettiness rings false; she's not as ravaged as a Whitechapel working girl would be.) After the mindless, formulaic fluff of the summer's Hollywood offerings, "From Hell" is a remarkable breath of fresh air. Starring Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm and Robbie Coltrane. Directed by Allen and Albert Hughes. Written by Terry Hayes and Rafael Yglesias. Produced by Jane Hamsher and Don Murphy. A Fox release. Drama. Rated R for strong violence/gore, sexuality, language and drug content. Running time: 120 min

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