In Victorian England, a barber by trade, Benjamin Barker who had a lovely wife and daughter, found his wife to be the object of desire by a malicious public official, Judge Turpin, and through trumped up charges, Barker was banished from London, leaving his wife and daughter to the wiles of the judge. Fifteen years later, Barker has returned, taking a new identity, that of one Sweeney Todd, with nothing further than bloody revenge on his mind. Todd returns to his old home, which is above the meat pie restaurant of Mrs. Lovett, and finding a sympathetic soul with her, Todd plots his revenge.
And that’s the premise of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street the latest film from the team of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp adapting Steven Sondheim’s musical for the screen. And if there was ever a project that screamed out for the team of Burton and Depp to take it on, Sweeney Todd is it. These two, the Goth Scorsese and DeNiro as I like to call them, have delivered some incredible work on screen together, and while I thought they misfired with Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, I think they deliver the goods in a big way with Sweeney Todd.
Now I must confess, though I’ve known of this story and it’s particulars for years, this is the first time that I’ve ever seen a version of it all the way through. And of course the first thing that came to mind for me is whatever could posess someone to make a musical of this extremely twisted tale? In talking with my friend Dan, the Grand Guignol concept of theatre came up and immediately on hearing those words, it all made sense. Sondheim being the peculiar sort that he is obviously thought this would be something totally original for musical theatre and without a doubt it most assuredly is.
The movie absolutely looks fantastic, you see this and you almost immediately think this is exactly what it has to look like in the mind of Tim Burton. And this is a musical, almost non-stop from start to finish, and the music and the lyrics are just a lot of good, twisted fun. One of the opening scenes, with Todd coming back into possession of his “friends” his razors, is just pure magic on the screen with all elements coming together in a very special way.
And yet still, this is not a tale for the faint of heart by any means. This story is just as twisted as the Saws and Hostels out there, so be warned going into this.
Depp is absolutely spot-on as the demon barber and I think it just might be his best work with Burton since Ed Wood. And he’s well aided by a great supporting cast including Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett, Alan Rickman as Judge Turpin and Sacha Baron Cohen in a brief role as Pirelli, a rival to Todd who’s first played for total comedy, but ends up being a much darker character before his time runs out.
This movie runs two hours, and to me the only time’s it seems to drag are with some scenes with the young sailor who befriended Todd pining over Todd’s lost daughter, but that’s hardly anything to be a deal-breaker in my own enjoyment of the film. Overall though, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp bat one out of the park with Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and I know I for one cannot wait to see this one come home in DVD just to see some of the making of the film alone. As long as you’ve got the stomach for this story, it’s highly, highly recommended.