More noise than signal

From Hell

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

This is an adaptation of an Alan Moore joint, who didn’t like it. I am as shocked as you are, although to be fair, he’s on much more defensible ground with that opinion compared to some others.

Death stalks the street of Whitechapel, with Jack the Ripper cutting about cutting people up. Tasked with stopping the chaos is salt of the earth, working class Inspector Abberline, played here by Johnny Depp, assisted by the rest of London’s finest, including Robbie Coltrane’s Sergeant Godley. While investigating the friends of the bebutchered deceased ladies of negotiable affection, he meets Heather Grahman’s Mary Kelly, archetypical feisty hooker with a heart of gold and, naturally, the love interest.

And so it goes, being essentially a police procedural but with a lead detective that occasionally visits opium dens and has weird visions of the future while strung out on horse. The trail leads him to the upper echelons of Victorian London, causing frictions with his Commander as Abberline uncovers evidence of this being part of high level conspiracy, and not some common or garden serial killer.

Ultimately the only remarkable thing about From Hell is how unremarkable it is. Most of the bad is not all that bad, and generally balanced out by the good, which, unfortunately, is also not all that good. For example, there’s a solid and interesting narrative running through it, although it’s ultimately preposterous. The supporting cast is very good indeed, but balanced out by one of those mid-career Depp turns that’s closer to an early career Depp turn, and an accent that’s out of this world, or at least, well outside of the Bow Bells. The same, to a lesser extent, can be said about Graham, the net effect being that I find it a little difficult to take this film’s leads particularly seriously. The supporting cast – Coltrane, and all of the Ians, Holm, McNeice and Richardson – fare better, but they’re sadly not much more than cameos.

It’s by no means an awful film, but aside from a feint at something of a Jekyll and Hyde-esque look at the conflict between someone’s violent and phlegmatic natures in the end-game, which is explored much less, well, stupidly, in two films coming up, it turns out there’s not an awful lot in From Hell to recommend that you dredge it out of the archives.

Certainly the least interesting of the Moore adaptations that I’ve seen – at least The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen had the decency to be a flaming car-crash of a film.