Saturday, December 29, 2007

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a dark incantation of the old Stephen Sondheim stageplay and musical. Having seen the play twice, one with the special barber chair and one scaled down without the chair, I can say that the movie is darker. I didn’t think that possible. But then again, we’re dealing with Tim Burton, the director who could out-dark knight Batman.

Sweeney Todd is an opera without operatic singers. The main players are Johnny Depp as Sweeney, Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett, and Alan Rickman as Judge Turpin. None of those fine actors has any singing chops, but it really doesn’t matter. Their singing voices are edged with realism and tragedy, and it’s obvious Burton made the right decision to cast with actors, not singers.

Sweeney Todd returns from 15 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He was sent there by Judge Turpin, who coveted Sweeney’s beautiful wife. When Sweeney returns, he has one thing on his mind, revenge, and is helped in that endeavor by piemaker Mrs. Lovett. Mrs. Lovett makes the “worst pies in London,” but Sweeney’s new passion helps her solve her marketing problem.

It’s London at its worst, at its most real, Victorian London where, if you’re not rich, you lead a hazardous existence, especially if you’re a penniless child or woman. The sets and cinematography are breathtaking. And so is the blood.

The blood was too much for me. Well, not really the blood, but how it was obtained. This is a very gruesome movie. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has nothing on Sweeney Todd.

However, if you can get past the realistic violence, I suggest you do: Sweeney Todd is the best that movies can do with staged theatre. The movie is the most vivid explanation of why revenge will consume you, and of the consequences for that one emotion.

Come for the music, those glorious Sondheim tunes. Stay for the pie. Thumb’s up.


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