Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Review

Posted: October 12, 2013 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Time Capsule Reviews

Release Date: December 21st, 2007

Running Time: 1 hour and 56 minutes

Written by: John Logan

Directed by: Tim Burton

Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

Someone says the word ‘musical’, and what is it you automatically think of on average?  Most likely, it’d be visions of colorfully-dressed people singing equally colorful lyrics while performing lavish dance moves with a mob of back-up dancers who seemingly came out of nowhere.  Either that, or you groan in a very “I don’t like musicals” kind of way.  Well, that’s decidedly not the case with Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which takes the opposite approach by instead providing murder schemes, slit throats and pies baked with the delicious goodness of human body parts.  You’d think that would spell disaster for a Broadway play, but Sweeney Todd actually proved to be a big hit in that format.  As for the film adaptation, the first time I saw Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, I considered it to be director Tim Burton’s masterpiece, but that was before I saw Big Fish.   However, that’s not to say Sweeney Todd is any less impressive upon any of my many re-watches; it’s actually one of Burton’s three best films and a musical with real style and a panache for intertwining its simple story with its rather poetic musical numbers.

As a side note, I’d like it noted that any of my Top Five Films of 2007 (Sweeney Todd, No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Gone Baby Gone and Rendition) could be in the #1 spot for the year, and I’d be happy. But there’s just something about them meat pies!

The usually reliable Johnny Depp gives a haunting performance as the title character, a barber who’s darkly transformed after he serves a prison sentence thrown at him by the corrupt Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman). Benjamin Barker, now Sweeney Todd, returns to London intent on seeking revenge on Turpin, especially after discovering the fate of his wife and daughter. What’s his plan, you ask? Well, along with local pie-maker Mrs. Lovett (delightfully played by Helena Bonham Carter), Todd re-opens his barbershop with the sinister intention of luring Turpin there so that he can slit the slime ball’s throat, along with that of Turpin’s right hand man, Beadle Bamford (Timothy Spall).  In the meantime, Anthony (Jamie Campbell Bower), the sailor who helped Todd get back to his hometown, becomes smitten with Todd’s daughter Johanna (Jayne Wisener), a development which plays perfectly into the vengeful barber’s plan.  It all builds and builds while Todd and Mrs. Lovett “practice” by way of slitting the throats of customers who “won’t be missed” and baking their remains into meat pies that are in turn sold to the public.  And as the songs continue to be sung, the blood begins to spurt.

Since this film was first released, a lot has been made of Johnny Depp’s performance, one way or the other.  Well, I’m one of the ones who love it, and I’m glad it at least got him an Oscar nomination.  Most of Depp’s work here relies on subtlety, which is evident when you see how little dialogue Todd has compared to the rest of the cast.  Even then, such pained sadness and single-minded determination can be detected through Todd’s facial expressions and actions more so than his words, and I think that speaks to the strength of Depp’s acting here.  He also does impressive work with all the singing.  Helena Bonham Carter is wonderful as Mrs. Lovett, giving her a nice variety of emotions and providing the film with the bulk of its dark humor while never upstaging Depp.  Alan Rickman is his usual enjoyably sinister self and the rest of the cast is equally solid.

This is more of an “experience movie”, driven by its tone, style and songs rather than plot, and as such, it’s great. Tim Burton’s knack for first-rate visuals pervades this entire movie and is especially on display during “By The Sea.” On the whole, with the dreary color palette and great art direction, “Sweeney Todd” is a gorgeous film to look at. Plus, not counting the songs, I love the Bernard Hermann-esque score this movie has.  All in all, Sweeney Todd is a consistently well-directed film and one that suits Tim Burton’s sensibilities very well.

Burton’s effective direction extends to the musical numbers, too.   I just love how the songs are done here: not over-stylized and fancy with lavish dance numbers, but much more intimate and restrained. The characters just stand in a room and sing. It’s so refreshing.  My favorite of all the songs is “A Little Priest”, in which Todd and Mrs. Lovett happily brainstorm the various “key ingredients” for possible pie flavors.  Also of note are “Pretty Women”, “My Friends”, “Johanna” and “By The Sea”.

With its intentionally overdone violence and macabre sense of humor, Sweeney Todd isn’t for everyone, as evidenced by its U.S. box office revenue. But personally, I found its bleak tone and occasional weirdness appealing in its own twisted way. I gotta say it certainly is a unique movie, with a rich visual flair and memorable songs.

A few years ago, I would’ve said I wasn’t the biggest fan of musicals, but I believe this film started to steadily alter that personal view after I first saw it.  I love Sweeney Todd for the very reasons some find it odd. Its marriage of fluent songs and bloody mayhem never fails to hold my attention throughout, and I found myself singing the songs in my head long after it was over, and still do from time to time … after whenever the film comes up in any discussion. It may well just be my all-time favorite musical.  I find Sweeney Todd to be (pun intended) bloody brilliant. I freaking love it.


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