It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
One day men will say I gave birth to the 20th century. -- Dialogue by Jack the Ripper I' d like to think Darwin has a better case, but I see what he means. The century was indeed a stage for the dark impulses of the soul, and recently I've begun to wonder if Jack didn't give birth to the 21st century, too. Twins. During 10 weeks in autumn 1888, a serial killer murdered five prostitutes in the Whitechapel area of London. The murders were linked because the Ripper left a trademark, surgically assaulting the corpses in a particularly gruesome way. "I look for someone with a thorough knowledge of human anatomy," says Inspector Abberline of Scotland Yard. An elementary knowledge would have been sufficient.
The story of Jack the Ripper has been fodder for countless movies and books, and even periodic reports that the mystery has been "solved" have failed to end our curiosity. Now comes "From Hell," a rich, atmospheric film by the Hughes Brothers ("Menace II Society"), who call it a "ghetto film," although knowledge of film, not the ghetto, is what qualifies them.
Johnny Depp stars as Inspector Frederick Abberline, an opium addict whose smoke-fueled dreams produce psychic insights into crime. The echo of Sherlock Holmes, another devotee of the pipe, is unmistakable, and "From Hell" supplies its hero with a Watsonoid sidekick in Peter Godley (Robbie Coltrane), a policeman assigned to haul Abberline out of the dens, gently remind him of his duty, protect him from harm, and marvel at his insights. Depp plays his role as very, very subtle comedy--so droll he hopes we think he's serious.
The movie feels dark, clammy and exhilarating--it's like belonging to a secret club where you can have a lot of fun but might get into trouble. There's one extraordinary shot that begins with the London skyline, pans down past towers and steam trains, and plunges into a subterranean crypt where a Masonic lodge is sitting in judgment on one of its members. You get the notion of the robust physical progress of Victoria's metropolis, and the secret workings of the Establishment. At a time when public morality was strict and unbending, private misbehavior was a boom industry. Many, perhaps most, rich and pious men engaged in private debauchery.