Burton-style musical about revenge and meat pies
Eyeliner. Wild hairstyles. Accented cheekbones and a cockney English accent. Few actors can take those disparate elements of character and meld them as effectively as actor Johnny Depp. In fact, he manages to successfully apply them to just about every film he stars in, from scissor-wielding Edward to daft Jack Sparrow. Just when you'd think that his magic formula had run its course, Depp brings it back in excellent London gothic style with "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, " as directed by oddball creative thinker Tim Burton.
"Sweeney Todd" is based on the Broadway play by the same name, which in turn was based on a series of urban legends from the 19th century about a barber named Todd. That being confusing enough, the story is relatively straightforward. Benjamin Barker (Depp) was a successful barber in London, married to the beautiful Lucy (Laura Michelle Kelly), and living on the infamous Fleet Street with their baby daughter Johanna. Lucy's beauty catches the eye of Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), a corrupt and disturbing public official, who uses his political power to banish Barker from London, abuse his wife and take charge of his daughter. Fifteen years later, a re-envisioned Benjamin Barker, now referring to himself as Sweeney Todd, returns to London and Fleet Street, seeking his revenge on Turpin. He sets up his barbershop once more, hoping to lure Turpin in for "the closest shave of his life" and finally exact his revenge. In the meantime, Todd develops an odd relationship with landlady Nellie Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), consisting of Todd taking out his vengeful fury on unsuspecting customers, Lovett baking the bodies into pies and then distributing them to the general public of London. And all with a bit of off-beat romance, of course.
Above all other classifications, "Todd" is a Tim Burton film. As such, the atmosphere is dark and gloomy, and rightfully so, considering that the theme of vengeance and the use of large quantities of blood are central to the story. The whole film is stylized to let only the bright shades of bloody red stand out against the darkness of the "hole in the world," as Todd puts it, that is London. The characters, their murderous, unhinged character traits aside, are also dark but delightfully amusing, another Burton trademark.
Second above all, "Sweeney Todd" is a musical. Those among the viewers who believe that the only song that Depp is capable of singing is "Fifteen men on a dead man's chest…" are in for a shock. Depp and Bonham, the principal vocalists of this production, perform the songs exceptionally well. From the stage makeup to the dance steps, it is obvious that this piece is a musical adaptation.
One of the greatest strengths of "Sweeney Todd" lies in its characters and the outstanding actors portraying them. Depp fully manages to get Todd's madness across to the audience with the slashes of his silver daggers, in conjunction with the odd eyebrow raise. Lovett is just as deranged as Todd, though in a slightly different way, as shown by Carter's abnormal expressions and manner. One of the best played characters is that of Beadle Bamford, by young Timothy Spall, whose voice, surprisingly, is on level with all of the other actors, and who often serves as an amusing foil to the troubling events in the film. The other entertaining notable in the film is a tights sporting Sacha Baron Cohen, as the faux-Frenchman Signor Adolfo Pirelli, Todd's past apprentice and current rival for the title of best barber in London.
As hinted by the title, "Todd" is a very bloody film. The troubled Todd makes no nevermind of killing just about every unfortunate soul that walks into his barbershop after dark. The killing is not subtle either, as you might expect. To put it mildly, the sprays of blood are fountain-esque and the deaths are disturbingly agonizing. The humor in "Sweeney Todd" is exotic, to say the least. Most often centered around the untimely demise of a character, and the humor is usually gruesomely fascinating in addition to being actually funny. Expect to laugh loudly and be revolted within the span of seconds.
Though definitely not a film to take your granny to, "Sweeney Todd" is a delightful and thoroughly disturbing story about a crazy barber and the true nature of revenge. For the Depp-obsessed, those with a strong constitution and the movie-goer who enjoys Burton's offbeat humor, this is an excellent holiday show.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is rated R for graphic bloody violence. Now playing everywhere.
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