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:: From Hell

I love Johnny Depp. Have loved him since 21 Jump Street, adored him in Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and Donnie Brasco. I forgave him The Astronaut’s Wife, and even Don Juan De Marco, but ever since Chocolat my love has been tested. With From Hell, it has finally snapped. Johnny, what were you thinking?

The premise is solid enough. The story of Jack the Ripper, the gruesome London serial killer who was never caught has fascinated many for over a hundred years. Hypotheses and conspiracy theories abound as to who he was and why he murdered five women. He was the first serial killer to achieve celebrity status. So the film, based on a graphic novel by Alan Moore, a guru in comic book circles, could have been good, should have been good. It’s not.

The fantastic costumes, sets, effects, cannot mask an empty, facile journey. Johnny plays Inspector Abberline, who is for some reason, psychic. It never helps him much except for providing an excuse for him to run somewhere very quickly and be too late. He is also an opium addict, “chasing the dragon” at any opportunity to escape the tragedy of his past. When the Ripper begins his reign of terror, Abberline is assigned the case. As he investigates he meets comely prostitute, Mary Kelly, a fresh faced, improbably pretty, Heather Grahame (The Spy Who Shagged Me), who seems to have something to do with the deaths. He is also helped by a retired surgeon, Gull, played by Ian Holm (The Lord Of The Rings) as he becomes convinced that the murders had to be committed by someone in the upper class, with a solid knowledge of anatomy.

All the tricks that Hughes brothers employ, time lapse, steadicam, computer generated effects, fail to add excitement, highlighting instead, the contrivance and emptiness of the plot and its characters. A swathe of wonderful actors is wasted, such as Katrin Cartlidge and Lesley Sharp from Mike Leigh’s Naked. The characterisation is superficial at best, and motivations grow more and more ridiculous. The ubiquitous romance between Abberline and Kelly is so strained as to elicit sniggers.

It’s surprising to learn that an Australian is one of the co screenwriters. Terry Hayes, who wrote Dead Calm, Flirting and Payback, is capable of so much better. His co writer, Rafael Yglesias is responsible for the adaptation of Les Miserables, so perhaps no better could be expected from him. The dialogue sounds false, with the odd word thrown in to try and emulate authentic British speech in the 1800’s. By the time Robbie Coltrane asked “But why grapes?” for the tenth time I was ready to perform some ritualistic killings of my own. There is no excuse for this film to be boring, but boring it is, and far too long.

Screening on general release including the George Cinemas