From Hell (2001) 20th Century Fox
2 hrs. 17 mins.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane, Jason Flemyng
Directed by: Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes

From Hell



Photo: 20th Century Fox

'Style over substance'. For those not aware of this ever-important catch-phrase in the Hollywood industry, allow me to explain. This relates to a film's cinematic 'style' in which the film's outlandish visuals' outweigh the poor plot and weak storytelling (a.k.a.substance). This terminology can apply to such recent films as 'The Cell' to a disturbing little film from Terry Gilliam called 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' .

The concept of 'Style over substance' was my main worry in the Hughes' brothers' latest film ‘From Hell'. After an almost 6 year break from their last major Hollywood film 'Dead Presidents', the brothers who burst onto the scene with their first film 'Menace II Society' create a crafty film set around the classic tale of Jack the Ripper.

My main concern as aforementioned would be how these young filmmakers would balance the visuals of the film with its' heavy content. As previews started to roll in theatres months ago, the film's gothic London look resembled Tim Burton's set pieces drastically. And so my mind started to wonder, questioning the craftiness of the film. It is apparent that while these filmmakers have only made a documentary on pimps during their hiatus, it is evident that these filmmakers have studied the art of cinema and have put a lot of thought into the film. From nifty dissolves (an editing technique) to a dark look, these Brother Directors try to earn respect from the film going industry and partially have. Yet, they should have concentrated equally between the film's archaic set pieces and production values to what ultimately 'makes or breaks' a film. In a nutshell, the film's lackluster pace that fades out after a entertaining first act makes this film seem longer than its' two hour running time.

'From Hell' stars the incredibly talented Johnny Depp who seems to completely reinvent himself after every role. He bites into his characters and allows himself to be deeply immersed in this role as Inspector Abberline who is assigned to solve these mysterious strings of murders. Yet, the same cannot be said for Heather Graham who plays Mary Kelly, a prostitute working the streets of London who seems to be the next victim on the killer's list. In my opinion, it is evident that Graham is miscast as she wanders astray in the film with the help of a wasted English accent that serves more as a detriment than an aid in setting the film's tone. Set in the gothic town of early London, this film puts a spin on the classic Jack the Ripper tale.

The film's composition is quite simple yet complex at the same time. The Hughes brothers open the film with an entertaining yet congested first act. After all, this is a murder mystery and the suspects are thrown at you within the film's first 10 minutes. Following this display, the motives are thrown at you opening up the forum for educated guesses from the very beginning of the film.

And of course, the murder sequences. Quite simply - stunning. They maintain a certain sense of calmness while displaying the evil maliciousness the 'Ripper' character possesses. In watching these graphic scenes, it can be thoroughly observed that every one of the murderous sequences has been explicitly deconstructed in order to be filmed on the screen in a stylish and subtle violent manner. The interesting detail about these scenes is that the violence displayed escalates and develops with each murderous sequence. Witness the bloodless first murderous sequence in which the audience is surprised and terrified as all we see is the glare of the knife slowly being tainted with blood as it appears then disappears repeatedly into the glint of the light as it pierces the body outside of the frame.

Perhaps an homage to Hitchcock with the 'less is more' angle, yet in the end it is absolutely a treat to watch. What is not so great is as the blood and the victims increase, the film's pacing and storytelling decreases in a slow yet diminutive manner that the film never seems to recover from. The Hughes Brothers' work so hard to establish a crafty and surprisingly effective opening only to see it go to waste as the courting of Mary Kelly and Inspector Abberline bog down the film's pacing and set up the depressing and awkward ending. While the film's visuals are outstanding and the foggy London backdrop add a trait of creepiness to the film.

The film's ultimate weakness is the imbalance of plot, storytelling and its' look. Yet all this cannot hide the fact that while the Hughes Brothers have displayed their cinematic maturity at creating a bloody, dark and entertaining piece, it does not hide the fact that they could have created a real treat, yet stalled at turning a good film into a great film.

Click here to comment on this review or post your own thoughts.

Giancarlo De Lisi


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