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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

MOVIE REVIEWS

SWEENEY TODD - THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET (2007)

Starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Jamie Campbell Bower, Ed Sanders, Timothy Spall, Jayne Wisener, Sacha Baron Cohen, Laura Michelle Kelly, Gracie May, Ava May and Gabriella Freeman.

Screenplay by John Logan.

Directed by Tim Burton.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures.  117 minutes.  Rated R.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Stephen Sondheim's musicals have always been kind of odd for the Broadway stage.  Growing up in theater in a period where showgirls and singing nuns were the order of the day, Sondheim's interests always skewed more to the macabre.  He preferred to write about strippers (Gypsy), street gangs (West Side Story), philandering couples (Company), flawed fairy-tale heroes (Into the Woods) and the murderers of Presidents (Assassins).

However, even by Sondheim's odd standards, the story of Sweeney Todd made for a particularly offbeat choice for a Great White Way toe-tapper.  It dealt with violence, revenge, throat slitting, cannibalism and human beings baked into pies. 

Director Tim Burton and his favorite leading man Johnny Depp share Sondheim's obsession with the eccentric, so if anyone could convincingly bring Sweeney Todd to the big screen, it would probably be this team. 

It still feels like a tiny bit of an odd fit - beautiful heartfelt melodies capped off by more spurts of blood from slashed carotid arteries than a horror film - but it mostly works.

Depp plays a barber who loses his wife and baby daughter when a jealous judge has him jailed for years despite committing no crime. 

When he returns to London, his wife has poisoned herself and the same judge who put him in jail has adapted his daughter.  All he has left is his gleaming sharp straight razors and an all-consuming desire for revenge.  Therefore he takes on a new identity as Sweeney Todd, and quickly establishes a reputation as the best barber in London.

What most of the people frequenting his establishment do not realize, though, is that he periodically uses those exceedingly sharp blades for more than just a close shave. 

Soon he has bodies piling up in his basement.  He comes up with a novel way of disposing of them; he teams up with the lovestruck mistress of the downstairs pie shop (Helena Bonham-Carter) – a shop that is universally agreed to have London’s worst pies – and starts baking the corpses into pastry.  Soon the pie shop is also a smash hit and soon they are in need of an ever-growing supply of ingredients. 

In the meantime, Sweeney befriends a young man who has fallen for his daughter and is determined to free her from the evil judge.  Sweeney sees this as an advantage in two ways – to save his daughter and to avenge himself on the judge.

However, as Sweeney’s bloodlust and anger grows and grows he loses more control and perspective and it all leads to inevitable tragedy.

Burton realizes this offbeat and dark world brilliantly, however, sometimes the blood and mayhem do overwhelm the heartfelt and subtly constructed Sondheim songs – which are, after all, the whole point of the film.  However, Depp and Bonham-Carter and most of the rest of the cast (who are mostly known as actors rather than singers) perform their musical numbers with surprising nuance and skill.

You need a stronger stomach for Sweeney Todd than you would for other recent musical adaptations such as DreamGirls, Chicago, Rent and The Phantom of the Opera.  However, if you can handle the sprays of blood you are in for quite a treat.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: March 30, 2008.

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Copyright ©2008   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: March 30, 2008.