Hollywood's never gotten over its fascination with Jack the Ripper the infamous murderer of 19th-century London and with good reason. Though not the most prolific serial killer he was certainly one of the most depraved--and got away scot-free. Instead of telling Jack's tale from his point of view this Ripper flick tells it from a Scotland Yard detective's perspective. Depp plays Inspector Fred Abberline a forward-thinking cop who likes hangin' in the local opium den a little too much. Which turns out not to be such a bad thing as the illegal substances he indulges in trigger a head-spinning ESP that has helped him solve a few crimes and thus move quickly up in the ranks. After a few particularly disturbing visions mysteriously correspond with the horrific murders of several prostitutes Abberline finds himself hot on the Ripper's trail--and hoping he can stop the killer before he gets to the one cute "unfortunate" he has a crush on Mary Kelly (Heather Graham).
Why hasn't Depp gotten the credit he so deserves? The somber serious intense actor proves himself yet again a strong and gifted leading man carrying off the macabre subject matter as easily as he carries off a British accent. On the other hand Graham's Irish accent is as phony as the red dye in her hair. The fresh-scrubbed actress sticks out like a sore thumb when she first appears; thankfully her character takes a back seat to the gory story (save for a few not-too-overdone love scenes). Ever-capable Ian Holm steps in with a nice turn as the gentle old surgeon who helps Abberline. Robbie Coltrane shows a bit of that dry Brit humor providing what little lightheartedness there is to be found in this otherwise dark film as Abberline's trusty sergeant who frequently must make his way to the opium den to wake his boss up.
Albert and Allen Hughes whose past credits include the ultraviolent socially conscious Dead Presidents (1995) and Menace II Society (1993) seem to seek out unsavory characters rather than shy away from them. Here they bring their gritty sensibilities to a costume drama that incorporates the worst of Victorian London--prostitution alcohol and drug abuse street crime and corruption of the highest order highlighted by the acts of one of history's evilest real-life villains. Trouble is Jack the Ripper is fascinating because he got away with murder so concocting a theory about who he was and telling that story is infinitely less interesting than perhaps focusing on the killer himself and the facts of the case. While the camera makes good use of some cool imagery it also doesn't turn away from the Ripper's grisly crimes either and you'll probably find yourself cringing in disgust.