1888 London is a picturesque place to be. Its highbrow aristocracy and squalid sex barns are separated by a negotiable river that transports, more often than once, the cloaked and top-hatted gentleman to unlit alleys. One such is a man who carries, among his bait, a surgical case with polished weapons. And he has already carved the insides of more than one whore with his scissors and knives. The murders are inhuman, or so it seems, leaving little evidence for the investigative routine of the day. That leaves one devilish killer and a bunch of extremely nervous working women!
Fred Aberline (Johnny Depp) has troubles of his own. A regular at opium dens, he has bred a mind, through the drug-induced fumes, that can discern inexplicable events that have been and are yet to come. A clairvoyant? Maybe, but Sergeant Peter Bradley (Robbie Coltrane) would rather his inspector get the passive pipe out of his mouth, and do some serious leg work.
Entrusted with the Whitechapel case, Inspector Aberline learns that the murdered women belonged to a group of five fast friends, of whom only a couple now remain. Mary Kelly (Heather Graham) offers to help the inspector in his investigation, but he has to work hard at solving the crime before she too, meets the fate of her fellow-folk. Conferencing with Dr. Ian Holm (Sir William Gull), royal doctor to the Monarch, Aberline learns enough to unearth some oblique secrets of the throne, and the final clue that takes him home to the killer.
Immensely engaging, this film grabs you by the eye, even at times when scenes get a bit squeamish. Allen and Albert Hughes have earned the merit of making films that correctly canvas the undercurrents of a story that largely go unnoticed. In this, they have deliberately solved what is essentially the unsettled debate of the identity of the Ripper withou. Backtracking in time, they have resurrected sets that derive the essence of today to portray the smoke of the day before. With special effects that add potency to deserving scenes, and a score as haunting as the tale it tells, the brothers have recreated an epic with a flavour that will enthrall today's audience.This article was first published on 09 Jun 2002.