"I can guarantee the closest shave you'll ever know"
Directed By: Tim Burton
Written By: John Logan
Helena Bonham Carter
My rating: 7/10
Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd is a dark musical in the vein of his stop-motion animation ventures. It tells the story of a wronged barber who returns to London after spending years in prison only to find his wife is dead and his daughter is the ward of the evil judge who put him in jail. Sweeney Todd's bloothirsty rage and lust for revenge lead to murder of several clients. Luckily his new friend and landlady, Mrs. Lovett needs fresh meat to make pies for her establishment which bakes "the worst pies in London". With Mr. Todd's psychotic bloodlust being satisfied and Mrs. Lovett's business booming, Burton creates a chilling, Dickensian London that is sure to please most audiences.
As a film, Sweeney Todd impresses on many levels. It is beautiful to look at, it is wonderfully bloody and the lead performances are playfully dark. As a musical, on the other hand, the film faces problems. It is clear from the first 30 minutes of this film that Burton cares little for the musical elements of the adaptation and simply wants to tell the story in as spectacular way as possible. His casting of the two leads is evidence of this. Neither actor can sing. They cannot even pretend that they can sing. Not only can they not sing but their voices are in no way suited to the characters they portray. Carter's weak whispered falsetto counteracts her character of a tough, no-nonsense cockney woman. Fortunately, as Sweeney Todd's dementia spirals out of control, Depp's nasal warbling almost helps with his psychotic portrayal.
It is unfortunate that Burton chose to make Sondheim's musical, rather than just adapt the story as a film because in every other way he succeeds. However, if you choose to make as serious a musical as this one, you must be aware of the challenges.
The film has been criticised for its bloody second half, but the blood and gore is so gloriously B movie that it is in no way offensive. In the final act, events go so wildly out of control that it is pandemonium but Burton reins it in nicely to create a nice emotional denouement which affects despite the silliness going on.
Johnny Depp's performance is wonderful, as the man who can feel nothing only hatred and Carter is also great as the hard-as-nails woman blinded by love. Also noteworthy is Sascha Baron Cohen as Pirelli, overplayed with such ease that it feels like the part was written only for him. If you have some kind of aversion to Tim Burton's work, this will probably do little to sway you, but if you have a warm place in your heart for his dark psychosis, then you will probably be delighted with Sweeney Todd...if you can tolerate the singing!
-Charlene Lydon 7/1/08