The grisly tale of a barber seeking revenge comes to life in all its bloody glory, care of Tim Burton and his frequent collaborator Johnny Depp, in the feature film version of the Stephen Sondheim musical, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Ghoulish and full of gore, this Sweeney Todd adaptation isn’t for the weak stomached, but it is for anyone ready to be immersed in the gothic world Burton and company so beautifully create on the big screen in this deliciously entertaining musical romp.
Barber Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) has his life – and beautiful wife and child – ripped away by the corrupt, power-crazed Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman). Sentenced to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Barker has only the memories of his family and the image of Judge Turpin to keep him company as he whiles away time in jail.
15 years after Turpin tears apart his world, Barker leaves prison and returns to London, his mind consumed with thoughts of revenge. Renaming himself Sweeney Todd, the crazy-haired barber pays a visit to unsuccessful businesswoman/pie baker Mrs Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), moving back into the empty apartment over her restaurant where he used to reside with his wife.
Mrs Lovett, the baker of inedible pies, tells Sweeney Todd that after he was sent away his poor wife took poison rather than remain with the judge. Her sad tale serves to help fuel Sweeney Todd’s lust for revenge. With his razors sharpened and ready for duty, Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett begin to cook up ways of getting even with the wicked Judge Turpin. Sweeney Todd’s obsessed with the idea of making Judge Turpin pay for what he did to his wife and for continuing to hold his angelic teenage daughter against her will in his home.
As Sweeney Todd’s rage and despair deepen, he and the loyal Mrs Lovett – who has her eyes on Sweeney Todd as more than just a tenant - concoct a plan which will not only take care of Judge Turpin, but will also have customers lining the streets for Mrs Lovett’s suddenly tasty meat-filled pies (stuffed with a new secret ingredient). The old adage about killing two birds with one stone has never been as appropriate as it is when applied here.
At this point, I can’t imagine too many people arguing against the declaration that Johnny Depp is one of the best actors of his generation. Teaming up with Burton for the sixth time, Depp displays a maniac glee as a barber who redefines the term ‘a close shave’. Depp sing-talks his way through the film and while his vocal skills aren’t likely to land him a record contract, he does hold up admirably while tackling Sondheim’s bizarre lyrics. Playing second banana to Depp, Helena Bonham Carter’s Mrs Lovett is a twisted and complicated creature. Carter's singing skills are on the same level as Depp's, and somehow the two actors blend well vocally.
Alan Rickman separates himself from the supporting cast pack as the evil Judge Turpin. Rickman’s Turpin has a lot of Harry Potter’s Snape in him, and the Golden Globe winning actor has perfected the art of the raised chin/down the nose sneer. As Turpin’s right hand man, Beadle Bamford, fellow Harry Potter alum Timothy Spall prances his way through the pic, playing Beadle Bamford as a repulsive sycophant – absolutely nailing the character. Sacha Baron Cohen of Ali G and Borat fame provides some comic relief as a rival barber who Sweeney Todd brutally dispatches. But Cohen’s casting is almost too gimmicky, although it’s certainly not his fault audiences laugh before he even opens his mouth in Sweeney Todd.
To Sum It Up
Creeping around dark territory is what’s expected of Burton and Depp when they unite on a project, and Sweeney Todd’s right up there with the best of their past work. After watching Burton and Depp’s Sweeney Todd, it’s nearly impossible to imagine another actor and director handling the chore of bringing Stephen Sondheim’s musical to the big screen.
When Sweeney Todd’s killing spree is at its zenith, Burton doesn’t shy away from focusing on the knife slicing across his victims’ necks. And the director seems to delight in showing the audience what happens to the bodies after Sweeney’s given them their last shave, with repeated scenes of the corpses sliding down through the trap door and landing on the floor of Mrs Lovett’s basement with a sickening plop. It's both disgusting and mesmerizing...
The acting’s fantastic and the story – as well as the blood - flows along at a brisk pace. But what makes this Sweeney Todd standout is the production design. Sweeney Todd’s a gorgeous film with gray as the predominant color, effectively helping to capture the gothic tone of Sondheim’s story. You might not be humming the songs when you leave the theater, but the haunting visuals will definitely stick in your head.
Sweeney Todd was directed by Tim Burton and is rated R for graphic bloody violence.