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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) R 1h 57min

January 9th, 2008 by Maxim · 2 Comments · 6,089 Views

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Sweeney Todd (2007)Wow! What a movie! This is Tim Burton at his best. I could not think of a better director to make this screen adaptation of the Broadway musical.

The plot: After had been convicted for a crime he was innocent of and spending 15 years in exile doing hard labour before he escaped, Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) returns to London with the help of a sailor, Anthony Hope. He assumed a new name, Sweeney Todd. He was looking forward to see his wife and daughter, but only finds out that his wife committed suicide and his daughter Johanna was adopted by evil Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), the very judge who convicted him and destroyed his life, life of his wife, his entire family with help of his sidekick Beadle Bamford (Officer of the Order of British Empire Timothy Spall). With the help of the baker Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), Sweeney Todd goes on the murderous rampage for revenge, luring his victims into his barber shop he opened above Mrs. Lovett’s “worst meat pie in London” bakery, and slashing their throats.

First of all, this is NOT a horror movie in the slasher style. This is a musical. A rather bloody musical where radiantly red blood is flowing down the dirty streets of 19th century London, but still just a musical. Just be prepared to be entertained by watching some [nasty] people’s meat being ground into Mrs. Lovett’s pies.

Johnny Depp was singing. It’s not surprising that Tim Burton cast Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter: they worked together before on “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “The Corpse Bride“, where Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter also sang. Helena also played a witch in Tim Burton’s “Big Fish”. Another great reason to cast Helena Bonham Carter in this movie was that she was so great as Frankenstein’s bride almost 15 years ago (1994), and (forgive me) she does look the type. Also, the list of movies she acted in is very impressive.

The good: from the first sequence when Mr. Todd arrives on this ship to London, I loved the Dickensian depiction of 19th century London: gloomy, filthy, infested by rodents, miserable – remember Great Expectations? To complete the experience, in addition to extras that walked back and forth on the streets, they should have used more horses and make streets dirtier. Some scientists at the time thought that by year 1900 London will drown in horse shit (fortunately, automobile was invented). Great costumes and sets. Tim Burton is master of using light and color to help every little thing on the set come to life and tell the story, and put accents on what’s important in every shot. Speaking of shots, the shots where Todd and Mrs. Lovett look at their reflections in the razor blade and broken mirror that keeps distorting their faces were absolutely brilliant. Borat… well, Sacha Baron Cohen, made very funny impression of Italian accent. Acting by Depp, Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman was very good. It’s pretty hilarious like a very dark version of Monty Python’s: the violence is at the level when it becomes absurd. Beautiful cinematography by Dariusz Wolski. Music by Stephen Sondheim is unchanged from the original musical. The film is grim and dark as it’s supposed to be. Believe it or not, this movie is very tasteful when it comes to gore and blood. Great script by John Logan.

I hope I am not at the risk of spoiling the ending if I say that it reminded me the ending of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Rigoletto.

The bad: the makeup seemed not quite thorow: Mrs. Lovett’s face had just too much powder while her neck wasn’t covered, and same goes for most characters. Johnny Depp is a great actor, but his facial expression never changes. Young actors that played Anthony Hope, Johanna and Toby were OK, but certainly they have a lot to learn. The identity of the beggar was predictable - in a Greek tragedy sort of way. Some songs felt a bit too long.

There was a lot of in-your-face throat slitting and behind-the-scenes cannibalism, but they all reflect the vision of the world by the writer: the world is so disgusting and people are so “full of shit” that “we all deserve to die”. When I was watching Todd walk through the dark narrow streets of London and singing his vengeance songs I kept thinking of 13th-14th century medieval Western-European paintings depicting hell where people were burned, tortured, torn apart and eaten alive by demons. In this movie when you see lifeless bodies being dumped head-down into Mrs. Lovett’s basement you don’t feel any compassion; you are just repulsed when those “sacks of shit” dropped in a pile and got ground and cooked and eaten by the clients of the eatery.

More then anything, this movie reminded me of 1991 French movie, a dark comedy called Delicatessen, one of the earlier movies directed by Jean-Pierre Jeonet - same guy who directed “Le Fabuleux destin d’Amelie Poulain” (a.k.a. “Amelie” in US release). In this movie a stranger moves into a house with a deli on the first floor and soon discovers that the butcher is actually butchering people.

Great movie. Loved it. My friends, however, were perplexed: “…Johnny Depp chose to get cast in a weird movie…”. I think I would get the same reaction if I accidentally walked into a wrong theater on this movie and had no idea what it’s about. I suppose the audience needs some prepping before seeing it. At least watch a trailer before you go see it in theatres.

At the time of this writing, the film was nominated for 4 Golden Globes: Best Director (Tim Burton), Best Motion Picture, Best Performance by an actress (Helena Bonham Carter) and actor (Johnny Depp). I’ve seen Depp in better performances, but Helena Bonham Carter, in my opinion, deserves the prase. Not surprisingly, she was chosen British actress of the Year.

p.s. There’s a rumor that Tim Burton is going to remake his own “Frankenweenie” from 1984 in 2009. Can as well call it “Frankenweenie 25 years later”.. oh, but dogs don’t live for 25 years.

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Tags: Crime/Gangster · Dark comedy · Drama · Foreign · Horror · Movies · Musicals · Romance · UK · USA

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