A formidable cinematic two-some
Daniel Jolley | Shelby, North Carolina USA | 09/10/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As a motion picture, From Hell is quite good. Just don't look for any truths about Jack the Ripper to emerge from the movie. While it is based on the Whitechapel murders and does an adequate job presenting some factual information (such as the locations and conditions of the bodies), the premise is based on a thoroughly discredited and rather laughable theory; there is also much fiction in the relationships of the murder victims, and many important events and individuals are ignored altogether. The film does a decent job of depicting Whitechapel, but it never really comes close to portraying the true filth and miserable conditions of the real Whitechapel, nor does it succeed in revealing the humanity of the unfortunate victims. Certainly one pities the poor women who must engage in prostitution merely to survive, but the utter hopelessness and darkness of their world does not really manifest itself in the movie. The portrayals of the murders themselves are quite good and were clearly done with an eye toward accuracy. Johnny Depp is wonderful as Inspector Abberline; Heather Graham is a wonderful Mary Kelly, but her character never really conveyed itself to me as a down and out prostitute. The characters involved in the murders and conspiracy, whom I will not name for fear of giving something away, are also quite good. I can accept and even applaud the "solution" this movie portrays, as there are a couple of really ingenious aspects of the whole conspiracy, and I felt the ending was quite proper and touchingly subtle. There is not an overabundance of horror, as the real dirty work of the Ripper is never shown to the audience, so the squeamish can probably make it through until the end with a minimum of head turns.
As an armchair Ripperologist, I am compelled to state that the identity of the Ripper and the complex story surrounding the "solution" here are not at all historical. The movie makers took as their premise a thoroughly discredited story, and on top of this they added several completely original ideas. For example, Inspector Abberline is here portrayed as an opium addict who has visions of the Ripper murders. The victims supposedly know each other and are marked out for death for a quite specific region. All of the juiciest Ripper gossip and wildest speculations are injected into this movie. For those with little knowledge of the Whitechapel murders, please understand that the murderer, whoever he was, was certainly not the culprit named in this movie. If you want to learn the history of these crimes, forget almost everything you see here. This movie is to be enjoyed as a dark, Gothic motion picture because that is all it is.
Joy Ride has everything you could ever want in a thriller, delivering 96 power-packed, intense minutes of movie magic. The DVD makes this great movie even better by dumping as many extras as is scientifically possible onto the disk. Director John Dahl and his crew got everything right: cast, plot, special effects, overall vision, etc. This is no insignificant achievement given the fact that the storyline of the movie is a familiar one that could have fallen flat in a number of different ways. Under Dahl's direction, Joy Ride delivers a uniquely impressive twist to a familiar movie formula.
This is Fate at work here, thinks Lewis, when his friend Venna (Leelee Sobieski) tells him she has broken up with her boyfriend, and he takes advantage of this opportunity by picking the girl of his dreams up in Colorado on his cross-country trip home from college. He also decides to backtrack 200 miles and bail his older brother out of jail. Fuller (Steve Zahn) left home five years earlier, seemingly just to try out for town drunk positions all over the Western US. Fuller has the bright idea of having an old CB radio installed in the car, and it is not long before he hatches up a prank to play on a certain trucker known as Rusty Nail. Lewis pretends to be a woman, gets the guy all worked up, and invites him to meet "her" that night in a hotel room occupied by a hateful fellow Fuller encountered in the hotel lobby: it's funny until someone gets his lower jaw ripped out of his head. The boys head on east a little bit the wiser, but Rusty Nail refuses to go away. The guys try to forget everything that happened by the time they pick up Venna, but Rusty Nail is still watching from the shadows and now sets his sights on the lovely young lady of the group. The suspense builds quite impressively over the course of the film, leading up to a climax that does not disappoint.
The three main characters are just normal people, and that helps contribute to the fear factor involved in watching their insanely difficult ordeal. The voice of Rusty Nail works wonders, as his faceless presence over the CB is incredibly chilling and powerful. In the midst of all this terror, though, the viewer will find plenty of comedy. Steve Zahn is simply hilarious as Fuller; he takes gleeful delight in the prank he masterminds, yet he is at his funniest when he starts wigging out in terror, as he does on numerous occasions. Paul Walker has his moments as well, and he really serves to keep the story grounded, offsetting the hyperactive mania of Fuller and the serious and frightened attitude Venna has to adopt after learning that she is in grave danger as a result of a moronic prank. Sobieski is, of course, her always perfect self, demonstrating her acting skills across the entire spectrum from brave, determined young woman to helpless victim. The driving force behind Joy Ride, though, is that big black semi that just keeps coming and coming."