2001: Looking Back At FROM HELL - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad

2001: Looking Back At FROM HELL

Martin Rayburn goes to hell and back.
The Hughes Brothers are known for co-directing visceral, and often violent, movies, including Menace II Society, Dead Presidents and The Book of Eli. They have a natural flare for creating effective dramatisations of violence in urban culture, yet they clearly had to compromise much of their core talent and remain within Hollywood specific limits for the twin brothers depiction of 19th century London. Yet, even though From Hell doesn't have the same impact as their earlier productions, I still have to give them credit for trying as it remains an interesting film to revisit.

Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore, a man whose work is never particularly easy to bring to the screen, this movie is a speculated story about the cryptic tale in 1888 East London surrounding the aristocracy, a madman named Jack the Ripper, and five unknowing prostitutes who all share a deadly secret.Within the Whitechappel district of London (an exceptional facsimile built just outside of Prague), a murderer is on the loose. Set out to capture this mysterious villain is Inspector Frederick Abbeline (Johnny Depp).
There's maybe a whiff of Sherlock Holmes to Depp's Abbeline here. Not familiar with the source material I can not say how much of this is down to Depp and his penchant for homage within his character work (take Michael Jackson in his Willy Wonka or Kieth Richards in his Captain Jack Sparrow). Either way we first meet Abbeline as he wakes from an opium trip, a frequent substance used by this character to thwart his clairvoyant visions. Abbeline can see the murders before they happen. Thus, he is the one man to find the killer. This is pre-Pirates Depp, who was building himself a strong resume of interesting roles. Abbeline is no exception. With his piercing eyes and oozing sensuality, Depp does a fine job with his character and carries a portions of the production squarely on his shoulders.

The story focuses on Abbeline and a group of London prostitutes who are the primary targets of the grotesque human-carving rampage. Mary Kelly (Heather Graham), one of the prostitutes, slowly befriends Abbeline as she becomes terribly frightened for her life. Abbeline discovers that these murders are so precisely executed that only a man with great knowledge of the human anatomy can be responsible. This is when he meets Sir William Gull (Ian Holm), a physician to the royal family, who assists Abbeline in piecing together the puzzle.
The love relationship between Graham's Mary and Depp's Abbeline is an undeveloped side story that gets lost in the cobblestones of London. Yet again, it does nothing to further the plot and strips the story of its momentum, catering to Hollywood's unnecessary must-find-romance-somewhere agenda. Heather Graham is so unconvincing that it is sad to see the poor girl attempt to spit out a London accent. Compared to the other prostitutes in Mary's group of friends with missing teeth and bad complexion, dirt seems to easily avoid Mary and dental hygiene must be on the top of her priority list. A box of red hair dye and a Victorian corset cannot save Graham from being poorly cast in a role too far over her head.

Much more successful is the casting of Jason Flemyng in the role of John Netley, a coachman and stooge of Jack the Ripper, who is arguably the most fascinating and believable character in the whole production. There's also a near-who's who of British talent making up many of the supporting roles featured liberally throughout, including Ian Richardson, Sophia Myles and Robbie Coltrane as Abberline's humorous and literary-minded subordinate assistant. There's also the aforementioned Ian Holm who stepped in when the original choice for his role, Sir Nigel Hawthorne, tragically became ill and died just before the film went before the cameras. I've been a fan of Holm's since Alien and it's rare to find a single film he appeared in throughout his life where he didn't command your respect and attention.
I've always been of the thinking that violence stemming from horrific scenarios can be more effective if you leave certain things to the imagination instead of forcing your viewers to wince or cover their eyes at every corner. It's not that there's an overused amount of gore but the Hughes Brothers do not shy away from displaying it graphically when given the chance. Bloody effects can sometimes be thrust into the narrative as a bad excuse to further the plot; here they are unessential, not even needed.

Despite the Hollywoodfication of the production, From Hell remains an interesting watch. Screenwriters Terry Hayes and Rafael Yglesias do a terrific job of hiding the man in the shadow's identity until the last minutes of the film. Does it solve the real-life riddle of Jack the Ripper? I doubt it's even close to an approximation of the truth as to what really happened, but as a Victorian procedural come slasher flick, with a beautifully ominous score and a fascinating transformation of Prague into 19th century London, it succeeds in retaining your interest for two hours of whodunit.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad