>> Sweeney Todd (John’s Review, 8/10)

Sweeney ToddSome reviews are more difficult to write than others, and even though I saw Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street a couple of weeks ago, I’ve had a hard time finding an approach to a review for a movie that delivered pretty much exactly what I expected. From the moment the project was announced, it seemed like a good marriage of talent to material–a gothic, musical horror film with Tim Burton directing and Johnny Depp as the lead. That’s almost like the Tim Burton equivalent of a Martin Scorcese crime film. The words “gothic” and “Depp” are enough, but add the word “musical”, and you know you’re seeing something tailor-made for Burton. Burton enjoys dark corners, but he enjoys the theatrical and operatic (some might say campy) even more. Give him the opportunity to mix those interests, and you’re talking about the type of project that Burton could probably direct in his sleep.

Depp is of course the title character, Sweeney Todd, a barber once named Benjamin Barker convicted of an imaginary crime by the villainous Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman). Turpin’s motivation to send Barker away is his own lust, not only for Barker’s angelic wife, but for Barker’s daughter as well. When Barker is released from prison, he adopts the identity of Sweeney Todd, and sets up shop above a repulsive meat pie stand (owned by Mrs. Lovett, played here by Helena Bonham Carter). Todd is almost hate personified, starting with the single-minded purpose of killing Judge Turpin and his filthy major domo Beadle (Timothy Spall), and then expanding his murderous hate under the influence of Mrs. Lovett, killing almost anyone that might sit in his barber’s chair.

The songs by Stephen Sondheim are nimble and wordy, a delight for those that enjoy dense, tricky lyrics over Broadway-style showstoppers. Everyone in the cast is a capable singer, more than ready to do what the part requires, but nobody’s voice is a revelation here. Everyone sings exactly how you would expect them to sing.

So, was there anything unexpected? Maybe the violence. Burton has no issues soaking the screen with arterial spray in the film. While it might make some squirm, this is a case where the gore really felt like a big part of the story. The splatter is part of the show, and the red bursts are intense against Burton’s mostly neutral-toned London. Not to sound like a blood-thirsty psycho, but it really was all part of the fun.

The fact that this dark revenge tale is fun is the trick that Burton has pulled off. Sweeney Todd is nasty, bloody, and morose, and, when examined against its individual parts, shouldn’t be declared a fun time at the movies, but there it is. Fun. Only Burton could create such light entertainment from such dark material.

8 on a 1 to 10 scale

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4 Comments

  1. Sweeney Todd is great movie.

  2. Are you gonna compile a “best of 2007” list? Just curious.

  3. I’m not doing a best of ’07 because I probably didn’t see the best films of 2007. I loved 3:10 to Yuma and Zodiac, but what else? I missed all the “really good” stuff.

  4. I hate violence & blood in films but I really appreciate Tim Burton’s atmosphere so I think I will give it a try…


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