Review

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Review

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Dec 21, 2007 | 12:30pm EST

Before Jack the Ripper there existed a (probably fictional) 19th century London serial killer named Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp). But Todd was once Benjamin Barker a normal British lad whose life was filled with love where it is now filled with hate. That was 15 years ago when he and his wife (Laura Michelle Kelly) were taking a leisurely stroll with their newborn daughter and happened to catch the prying eye of Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman). Jealous and omnipotent Turpin steals away the girls and falsely imprisons Barker--who is now back in town after escaping jail. Upon his return Barker is immediately taken in by Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) a lovelorn pie maker who has preserved Barker’s beloved razors over the past decade and a half. They soon form the most grisly of partnerships: He now Sweeney Todd poses as the hottest new barber around inviting men up for what turns out to be their fatal shaves; she in turn makes culinary use of the victims’ remains seamlessly churning out the tastiest “meat” pies in the whole town. Mrs. Barker’s business is now thriving. But just what does Mr. T as she calls him stand to gain from all this? A twofold reward: an outlet for his soul-consuming misanthropy and practice--for when Judge Turpin becomes his patron. Throughout his 20-plus years as an actor  Johnny Depp has excelled at both choosing appropriate roles (Edward Scissorhands) and making the absolute best of seemingly inappropriate choices (Pirates of the Caribbean). Put Sweeney Todd a role for which Depp comes to mind well before any actor in the former category. Part of Depp’s overwhelming success as Todd is that very fact: The match of dark actor to dark character is so stark that you’re captivated from the get-go. And we all know he can mope about with the best of them. But it’s the way he inserts that certain Depp-ness into something so un-Depp as a musical (he has a shockingly great voice by the way) that is most impressive here especially for its enhancement of Todd as a misanthrope. Bonham Carter too is a wonder in Sweeney. Her Mrs. Lovett might be even more ruthless than Depp’s title barber but Bonham Carter maintains a façade of softness most notably during a touching song about the young boy (Ed Sanders) who vows to protect her; the title could’ve just as easily been Mrs. Lovett. Finally Sacha Baron Cohen as rival butcher/first victim Adolfo Pirelli is nothing short of a revelation in his first post-Borat role. While he sing-speaks at breakneck speeds like a Broadway pro his less theater-proficient fans will still appreciate his unmistakable comedic stylings. Any movie that is tailor-made for Johnny Depp is automatically tailor-made for his behind-the-camera equivalent Tim Burton and vice versa. Sweeney Todd based on Stephen Sondheim’s extremely beloved 1979 musical is a magnet to Burton’s style and sensibilities. Death blood and bleakness-obsessed with a tinge of otherworldliness Sweeney falls right in line with most of Burton’s work; there are evocations of Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow--even somewhat lighter-hearted fare such as Beetlejuice and Big Fish. But who knew Burton could harness it all into a movie with nonstop singing? Well we all do now! While the director unsurprisingly delivers his heavenly hellish visuals--London looks like a goth wonderland; a daydream sequence looks like something straight out of well a Burton dream--it’s the non-visuals that will please everyone from Sondheim snobs to the girl in the front row with the patent-leather knee-highs. The musical numbers are a splendor without focusing too much on high-note hitting; the murder scenes are frightening (this is very R-rated) but always in a deliciously over-the-top fashion; and Burton’s juxtaposition of said musical numbers with horror is pretty much as entertaining as the medium of film can get.

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