Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Paramount Pictures, R)

film_sweeney_sm.jpgDirector Tim Burton reminds us once again why we used to love him so much.








Fantastic! That is the only word I can use to describe one of the most thoroughly enjoyable and masterfully orchestrated films to come out this year. Director Tim Burton reminds us once again why we used to love him so much, before Sleepy Hollow and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In the days of Beetlejuice and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Burton created worlds few of us could ever imagine with visuals that delighted and amazed. Finally, we get to sit back and enjoy his skill and ability instead of waiting for him to bore us with over the top, elaborate storytelling and sets.

Sweeney Todd, based on the multiple-Tony Award-winning musical by Stephen Sondheim, tells the story of Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp), a barber in early 1900s London who is wrongfully imprisoned by Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), a man interested in having Barker’s wife for himself. Barker and his wife have an infant daughter together, as well. When he returns 15 years later, he is white as a ghost (having had all the life drained out of him) and bent on revenge. He also goes by a new name: Sweeney Todd, because Benjamin Barker is dead.

Soon after arriving in London, Todd encounters Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), owner of the pie shop below the apartment he and his wife shared. The two form an unlikely relationship/business partnership. Todd, who wants to clear the streets of the vermin he sees running about, reopens his barber shop only to slit the throat of nearly every man who sits in his chair. The bodies are disposed of through a trapdoor in the floor and fall into the pie-making kitchen of Mrs. Lovett, who then cooks the meat into pies. The idea seems crazy, but with prices being what they are, says Mrs. Lovett, she doesn’t really have a choice.

The suspense of the film is predicated on whether or not Todd will get his revenge. A subplot which is perfectly weaved into the story is that of Todd’s daughter Johanna (Jayne Wisener) and Anthony (Jamie Campbell Bower), the boy who vows to steal her away from Turpin. The acting is wonderful, not just from Depp and Carter, who are able to live in the characters and sing rather well, but also from the young supporting cast of Wisener, Bower and Ed Sanders, who plays the street urchin Toby whom Lovett takes under her care. Sacha Baron Cohen creates yet another memorable character which starkly contrasts Depp’s disturbed character.

The reason Sweeney Todd is so successful and brilliant is because at no time do you feel like you are watching a musical or think, "A person wouldn’t break out into song like that"; the style of the film is so expertly handled. There are long periods of dialogue interspersed with songs and there are long periods of song interrupted by dialogue; the music and words flow naturally, never giving the audience a moment of doubt that what they are watching is a real world. This accomplishment can only be attributed to Burton whose contribution to the source material cannot be overstated.

One of the best films of the year and one of the best of Burton’s career, Sweeney Todd is an experience that shouldn’t be missed and will hopefully be recognized as awards season rolls on. | Matthew F. Newlin

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