Monday , May 28 2018
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The Hughes Brothers' version of From Hell.

“Yours Truly, Jack The . . .”

Caught the Hughes Brothers adaptation of From Hell on HBO last night. S’been a long time since I read the Alan Moore/Eddie Campbell graphic novel from which it’s based, so I found myself more often mentally comparing it to some of the myriad Jack the Ripper flicks that preceded it instead. (What does it say that I’ve got clearer memory of the B-movie retreads than I do the critically acclaimed graphic novel?) In general, the pic is moderately successful at telling its story, though there are moments when the task of squeezing in the book’s exhaustive details overwhelms its script.
The Hughes’ Whitechapel is more piss-soaked and grubby than we’re accustomed to seeing (had to figure these urban guys would get that right). Heather Graham’s slightly dubious prostitute-with-a-heart-of-you-know aside, the denizens of this poorest corner of Victorian London looked convincingly dour and desperate: no buxom Hammer-styled blowsy babes, just a bunch of tired and believably dead-eyed “bang-tails.” I liked the Hughes’ sour take on a setting that too frequently gets movie prettified, though every time the guys got squeamish about the idea of lesbian cuddling, I found myself backing out and going what’s that all about?
As for our investigative lead, this is the second time Johnny Depp has played an early detective (first was in Tim Burton’s out-and-out Hammer Homage, Sleepy Hollow), but the first time he’s gotten it right. His Inspector Adderline is convincingly damaged yet acute. From the movie’s beginning, you know that this character is going to destroy himself; the question is whether he’ll do it before the mystery is solved. Robbie Coltrane turns in his usual appealing pro job as the second-in-command, and I also enjoyed Ian Holm as the doctor who knows more than he’s telling. “Bilbo Baggins!” my wife noted when he first popped up, so she waited for a moment when he got all Gollum-y. She wasn’t disappointed.
As for the Ripper killings – obligatory in an outing like this – I found ’em decently staged with one exception: a throat-slashing created through obvious CGI (and which doesn’t match with the makeup we see on the victim’s corpse.) What? Tom Savini wasn’t available?
In the end, I found myself – well, I wouldn’t say entertained but definitely enthralled – by the film’s grimly explicit view of a story that still brings tourists into London on Jack the Ripper Tours. Like Moore, the Hughes are merciless at depicting the class-based bigotries and assumptions that hobbled police investigation of this bell weather case (figures they’d get that right, too.) A strong addition to the Ripper Movie Canon (which, admittedly, contains some pretty middling movies – two of which co-feature Sherlock Holmes!) and a fair adaptation of comic into film. I’m betting it’ll beat the hell out of the upcoming Moore cinemafication, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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