Sweeney Todd - A Masterpiece Wrapped in Death and Covered in Blood
by Ken Evans
December 18, 2007
I mentioned in my review of No Country for Old Men that the anticipation for a film can drive you crazy. Well, last Thursday night the anticipation I had felt over the last few months was finally quenched, and let me tell you that it was a glorious feeling. I drank deeply from the well of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, long satisfying swallows, and walked away longing for more. These are the moments that give me the strength to trudge through some of the mindless dribble that I have to see during the year. It's the hope that in the midst of all the horrible and average movies, there will be a shining few that will rise high above the others and make us remember why we love film in the first place. Tim Burton has once again given us a masterpiece.
Sweeney Todd is a horror musical set in old London during the 1800's. It is the story of a barber named Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) who was wrongly exiled by the evil Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman). After years in exile, Barker returns to London, although now going by the name of Sweeney Todd, to take back his wife and daughter and to exact revenge on Judge Turpin. Returning to his home he befriends Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) who tells him that his wife had poisoned herself and Turpin had adopted Todd's daughter as his own. With the help of Mrs. Lovett, Todd sets off on his plan to kill Judge Turpin.
This is a story about a good man who has been beaten by the world and no longer has respect for anything in it. Hate and ill will have overtaken him to the point where the good man that he used to be no longer exists. In his place now resides an evil man who's only thought lies on revenge; a man wanting nothing other than to make the world right by ridding it of the one who had wronged him. Although his methods are gross and wrong, you can't help but quietly cheer him on because of the dastardly deed that was done upon him.
Be warned, this is a full fledged musical with very little dialogue that isn't set to music. The trailer is a bit deceptive about how much of the film is sung, especially for those who haven't heard of Sweeney Todd before. Hopefully, knowing that this is a musical won't change anyone's mind about seeing it. It is absolutely a wonderful film that is dark and bloody, while at the same time funny and lighthearted. Making bloody and lighthearted go together could only be attained by the master director Tim Burton.
Tim Burton has delivered a true masterpiece wrapped in death and covered in blood. He has a way of making you fall in love with the dark and weird side of things. That is why Burton was perfect for this adaptation. He creates worlds that are very fantastical and ends up turning them into a reality. This doesn't always work as planned as we can see from two of his past attempts, Planet of the Apes (2001) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). On the whole, Tim Burton has given us some great classics that are definitely on my all-time favorites list, like Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, and Big Fish.
One of Burton's greatest talents is the ability to bring out Johnny Depp's best performances. Perhaps the greatest director and actor duo in film history, Burton and Depp again show us what can be achieved on the big screen. We already know that Depp is an unbelievably amazing actor, but his performance in Sweeney Todd goes right up there as one of his top performances, if not his best. How he hasn't won an Oscar or a Golden Globe yet is inexcusable, and hopefully will be rectified this year. Depp has the rare gift of being able to completely melt into his character so that he wholly becomes the person he is playing. His performance in Sweeney Todd is no different.
What is truly amazing about this film is that Johnny Depp doesn't have the only outstanding performance. In fact every major actor and actress presented themselves flawlessly. Helena Bonham Carter was absolutely brilliant, and I would consider it her best performance since Fight Club or Big Fish. I will be shocked if she doesn't win the Golden Globe for Best Actress (in a Musical or Comedy). Alan Rickman is the perfect man to play the villain Judge Turpin. I love watching him on the screen, as he has proven himself as a well rounded actor. He is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Sacha Baron Cohen (as Signor Adolfo Pirelli) is hilarious as always, although I think there is more to him then just comedy relief. I think he is a great actor who thus far has confined himself to being funny. As you will see in Sweeney Todd, there is a serious actor under there waiting to get out. Finally, Timothy Spall (as Beadle Bamford), who seems to be in every movie these days, pulls out another great supporting character performance. Even though he plays the same type of character in every film, he does it perfectly and I never get sick of him.
I truly hope this film gets the support and praise that I feel it deserves. I absolutely loved it, and it is easily making its way into my top films of the year. If you are having a hard time getting past the fact that it's a musical, get over it. Broaden your horizons, open your mind and experience something different. I can't promise that you will love the musical aspect, but you won't be able to deny the performances given by the actors and the world that Tim Burton has created.
Of all the films opening this coming weekend this is my favorite and I will definitely be going again. Since I'm the only one of my group of friends who has seen it, the inability to discuss it has been killing me. So please let me know what you think when you see it and comment below. I hope you walk away with as much excitement as I did.
Reader Feedback - 14 Comments
"Perhaps the greatest director and actor duo in film history, Burton and Depp again show us what can be achieved on the big screen." have you forgotten ...these guys...De Niro and Scorsese!!! 8/9 films together....anywya I agree all of depp and burton collabs....has been awesome!!! but to state that " greatest...duo in film history.."...it's a bit stretch....don't ya think???
scar on Dec 18, 2007
I was disappointed with the film. Maybe I just can't get past my deep and abiding love of the Angela Lansbury/Len Cariou B'way soundtrack. The look of the film was good, but Depp and Bonham Carter are just not up to one of Sondheim's most challenging scores. Depp was alright in the lower registers. But when he has to be full of emotion (in "Epiphany" for example), he just can't muster up the gusto. Bonham Carter is pretty breathy throughout. I think they should've used other voices. People who can really sing. Also, Sweeney Todd is a dark comedy. Burton reveled in the dark side and pretty much forgot about the comedy. I liked the broader way Lansbury played her part for example. With Burton the whole thing is so dark it becomes unreal. And therefore unbelievable, just something you enjoy as a fantasy. And therefore not as frightening. Rooting it more in reality would have made it a lot more disturbing. Now it's more like a cartoon. I didn't mind his paring down the love story between the two kids as their songs are pretty dreary. Not so sure it was a good idea to cut out the chorus parts. Since it's a musical anyway they could've had a chorus singing. Or at least during the opening and closing credits. I especially like the closing epilogue, which indicts the audience as well as Sweeney. They set up the final "twist" much better in the stage show too; in the film it's down to one line, and then it's revealed...too quick to really make an impact I think. I wouldn't recommend people see it, but I wouldn't dissuade them either. I'd be interested to hear what they have to say. For the vast majority of my life I've known very very few people care one whit about musicals, so it's something I indulge in private, rarely having anyone to share with. I'd recommend they get the 79 B'way cast album if they like the film. And better yet, see the filmed version of the stage show, which has Lansbury and George Hearn (not as good as Cariou for my money, but there we are). There you have a Sweeney that's fully engaging, w/o any kind of elaborate sets or splashy visual effects, just relying on the skills of first rate performers and singers.
G Gaar on Dec 18, 2007
Although the film is masterfully staged, costumed, and lit... I cannot derive myself from the sinking thought that there is something wrong with a culture that praises Sweeney Todd as being wonderfully "entertaining." It's certainly a wonderful movie- but "entertaining...?" To be honest, the events of this film, although highly rooted in fantasy, are still not very amusing at all. While on stage, Sweeny feels safer and more ironically humorous, but with Burton's constant over the top depictions of throat slitting and blood letting and cannibalism in close up rendering... they are far from funny. In fact, I found it very very disgusting-I even wanted to throw up- and I got angry that no critic mentioned just how disgusting the content of Sweeney is. Thankfully, our critics don't regard much horror film (Halloween) /gore porn(Hills Have Eyes) /tragedy (Hamlet) as "universally entertaining and delightful" (*at least not Yet) but Sweeney is a step in that direction. Who knows, maybe in the future my kids will be watching Schnidler's List while eating popcorn, being entertained. And that movie wasn't nearly as bloody. I'm not for censorship in Hollywood or anywhere else. But sometimes I think people today need to take a reality check and really examine what we are appreciating and why. In a war time especially, it is important for this country to remember the killing of random human life is not comical--and shouldn't ever be.
Benjamin on Dec 21, 2007
well, i have been waiting for this film since april-ish. and let me tell you. when you said ur thirst was quenched and what not. it was the perfect words i could not find myself to describe how good it was. I thought it was absolutely amazing every bit of it...the cinematography by Dariusz Wolski was probably one of my favorite things about this movie. (other then the acting and the storyline)....of course they were above and beyond. I was reading another article the other day about the film. i forget who or what it was..but they complained that tim burton took it too far with the amount of blood used in this film. ......ask yourself this...isn't dark, creepy, and morbid tim burtons thing? its knid of what he's famous for. haha.... please wb.....
Joey on Dec 21, 2007
The movie had it's moments (mostly in the beginning) but I found that the film became way too predictable and vulgar. I left feeling terribly unfulfilled. It is a movie that tries to be refreshing and different, but ends up being ... well ... as interesting as a slasher movie with music. And if this story's intent was to be ironical -- then Burton (ahem) butchered this one to death.
STOP George on Dec 23, 2007
This was the best movie i have seen in a very long time i cant believe how amazing depp and burton work together. it felt so real when i was watching it. i just loved it there is no other way of saying this was the bloodiest most horific musical or movie i have ever seen yet i would watch it 100 times b4 i would get sick of it. It is a must see!
karissa on Dec 23, 2007
I think that you should tell the really history behind the story on this website and I would like to know if Sweeney Todd was real or is he just a fictional Charcter. I am really looking forward to watching this movie also I think that this movie is a new type of horror. PS love you Johnny Depp
Manami Jones on Dec 24, 2007
I liked the film but I have to agree that I loved Angela Lansbury in her role as Mrs. Lovett. It was good because I have researched the real Sweeny and they tried to put in more about the way he really killed his customers. which was the fall when he dispatched them from his chair. He seldom had to cut their throats but would if need be. I found out that Sweeny was an orphan in the late 17 hundreds early 18 hundreds who's parents went to look for a drink of gin. Then he was jailed by the age of 14 and became a aprentise of a barber ( meaning dentist, doctor, and barber) during those times. He then set up shop at 186 Fleet St. He was never married but him and Mrs. Lovett were lovers. He evaided the cops many times but then was caught in the mid 18 hundreds and hanged. They used forensics to put him to death. Some one who came to his shop was expected and traced. He also had had a bum knee that a doctor had worked on and reconized the knee bone when they found it in the catacombs under the church next door. Mrs. Lovett poisoned herself in jail not wanting to go to the gallows herself. Look on the crime library website and look up Sweeny for yourself.
Faith on Dec 28, 2007
Although I never saw it, I think I'd love it. I have seen many Tim Burton films, such as the Nightmare Before Christmas. And I just adore Edward Scissorhands.
Anonymous on Jan 2, 2008
I thought the film was great. I haven't seen the Broadway show, or heard it's soundtrack (which I'm sure are great), so I had a clean slate going into it. Burton's visuals were stunning, and the acting was excellent. I love how it was funny, twisted, and romantic all wrapped into a musical... what the heck! One of the bloodiest parts/songs was also the funniest and most romantic. Its like no other film you have seen, or will see in quite awhile.
Brandon on Jan 7, 2008
Like another respondent here, I find it nauseating that people consider this film entertaining. Over the top gore, cannibalism, gouts of blood all over the place - that's entertainment? How desensitized are we going to become? BTW, Helena Bonham Carter was completely incomprehensible throughout, and the diction on many of the other characters stunk as well. I can't see what all the wahoo is about with this film - just typical Burton reveling in gore and grossness. Very predictable and disgusting to watch. What fun.
JFT on Mar 16, 2009
JFT...obviously your not a blood and guts guy, so why did you watch the movie? it was actually a great movie, and sorry to inform you but just because you can't stand the sight of blood doesn't make it a bad movie
guh on Dec 17, 2009
"It was actually a great movie and sorry to inform you but just because you can't stand the sight of blood doesn't make it a bad movie." Actually...yes, it does. For JFT anyway. That was JFT's opinion, and they have a right to it. For you, blood doesn't make it a bad movie, and that's your opinion and that's fine as well. You can't tell someone "actually it was a great movie" because that's just a matter of opinion, and if one doesn't agree, well, then one doesn't agree.
Mr. Moon on Dec 22, 2009
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