Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas
Hollywood seems to have taken a fancy of late to turning out big-budget film versions of hit Broadway musicals to play at Christmastime each year. In the past, we’ve had screen imaginings of Evita, The Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, The Producers, and Dreamgirls. All of these were stellar achievements, and very enjoyable to watch and listen to. And even though not all of them had the proverbial “happy ending,” they did produce some tunes that were hummable in the shower.
For Christmas 2007, the musical present under the cinematic tree is decidedly on the darker side. Director Tim Burton and actor Johnny Depp team up for the sixth time to give us the Grand Guignol musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. While many of Stephen Sondheim’s musicals are more than challenging, and many never make it to film, this one seems ripely suited to the talents of Burton and Depp.
Burton’s sense of imagery…and his penchant for things ghastly…work in perfect harmony to unveil this tale of a wronged barber returning to London to wreak his revenge on the evildoers, and ultimately, mankind. Depp is superb in both performance and voice, as is Helena Bonham Carter, Burton’s wife and muse, as the eerie Mrs. Lovett. Her meat pies become the culinary rage of London town. They are perfectly cast and work together like hand in glove.
The supporting players, including British veterans Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall, as well as young Ed Sanders and Jamie Campbell Bowers making their film debuts, are excellent in their roles. Sacha Baron Cohen, of Borat fame, has a small role and does fine with what little he has to do.
Although there are some comic moments, and much dark humor embedded in the script, Sweeney Todd is a horror film…an operatic horror film…but still quite tense and frightening in the imagery and execution. It’s not for all tastes, particularly if the viewer has problems reconciling Sondheim’s soaring score with visions that are decidedly gruesome, ghoulish and gory. There are scenes of debauchery, cannibalism, and many, many murders. Blood flows by the bucketful as the characters sing of their feelings and passions, while offing the unsuspecting victims.
Already the film has garnered Golden Globe nominations for Burton, Depp, Carter, and best picture. Chances are excellent that Oscar nods will be forthcoming as well when they are announced on January 22.
Does Sweeney Todd offer memorable toe-tapping tunes? No. Will you leave the theatre feeling like you want to burst into song? No. However, you will have experienced a powerful film that will stay in your memory for a long time. It’s not difficult to think that Sweeney Todd will do for barber chairs and pot pies what Psycho did for showers.