Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Tim Burton adapts the Broadway classic into a brilliantly made, expertly acted, and incredibly bloody film.

Johnny Depp plays Benjamin Barker, a barber who lives with his wife and young daughter. Unfortunately for him, the corrupt Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) lusts after his wife and has Benjamin arrested and taken away. When he returns several years later, he encounters his former landlord and piemaker Mrs. Lovett (Helen Boneham Carter) where he learns that his wife had poisoned herself after being raped by the judge and his daughter is now being raised as Turpin's ward. He takes the name Sweeney Todd and sets about getting his revenge with Mrs. Lovett as his a partner in crime, disposing of his victims by baking them into her pies.

It's odd for a musical to tackle this sort of subject matter, since for the most part, film musicals have been happy, cheery affairs, but this one is pretty dark, dealing with revenge, lust and obsession. The plot really works as a musical revenge tale, and it has several twists and turns as the story unravels. It's aided by the brilliant Stephen Sondheim's songs, which serve as moments of humor as well as insight into the minds of these characters. Plus, the songs are just great to listen to. Granted, some of the actor's are not really singers, but I think the film succeeds in that they nail their characters so well that the singing really just becomes more of an extension of their own acting.

And the acting is phenomenal. Johnny Depp makes his Sweeney Todd and dark and brooding character, filled with anger and vengeance and not really thinking about much else. Which causes the "humanity" and humor of the film to fall into the responsible and capable hands of Helene Boneham Carter (who probably deserved an Oscar nomination more than Depp) who has to make her Mrs. Lovett vulnerable and darkly funny. She loves Sweeney Todd, and she actually makes you pity her as she falls in love with a man with a mind focused entirely on revenge.

Even if you dislike the story and characters, it's hard to not be taken the the visual feasts that the film presents before you. It's moody and melancholy, with a pallet of blacks, grays and browns, filled with sumptuous sets and wonderfully Gothic costumes.

This is a good idea for someone interested in getting into musicals, but yet ready to dive into the flamboyant, over-the-top campiness that permeates the genre. The "musical numbers" in this film feature no dancing, and no real bombastic qualities, instead it's almost like someone singing instead of talking (though, Chicago is another good starter musical too, I would think).

I can understand why someone could dislike this film, one it's a musical, one of the most reviled genres of the modern filmgoer, plus it's Tim Burton who has become the patron saint of the "Emo" movement. But being someone who has been a life-long fan of Burton, it was inevitable that I would enjoy this film, but it's also a well-crafted and unique film, one that I hope my lovely readers (all 9 of you and even that's assuming) will enjoy.

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