Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street - movie review (December 23, 2007) - SPOILERS AT THE VERY END
I like Johnny Depp ok. I mean, like a lot of other people, I thought he was perfectly fabulous as Jack Sparrow in "Pirates of the Caribbean". I didn't think he was quite as fabulous in the second and third movies of the same franchise, but I blame that less on him and more on the writers. And I've liked him in a number of other films, like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", "Finding Neverland", "Sleepy Hollow" and "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" I vaguely remember him, after the fact, from "A Nightmare on Elm Street", and I don't remember him at all in "Platoon". Most people probably remember him best from "21 Jump Street". I watched the show, and I thought he was ok, but I didn't fawn over him like a lot of others did - Richard Grieco was more my style.
But with his performance in "Sweeney Todd", I am firmly and completely in the "Johnny Depp is an acting god and one of the THE best actors working today" camp. I think what seals it for me is that as well known as Johnny Depp is, he is such a chameleon that he completely morphs into the characters that he's playing, his popularity and fame notwithstanding. My reaction to him in "Sweeney Todd" was much like my reaction to Tom Hanks in "Forrest Gump". I knew Tom Hanks from "Bosom Buddies" and a lot of movies and roles, and I knew that he did not have the personality that Forrest Gump exhibited. But I totally bought into that role because he was just so convincing. Johnny Depp does the same in this film. You know that he has not lived through the cruelties that Sweeney Todd has had to endure - and yet you buy it completely because he plays it with such conviction. If you take the triumvirate of "Sweeney Todd", "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Finding Neverland", where he plays three completely different characters, you can see the depth of his acting genius. I never did see "Edward Scissorhands", but now I'm figuring on going back and catching it. I'd heard great things about it before, but I'm curious to see what he did with the role.
But Johnny Depp gushing aside, the film does work very well, though it is definitely a trial for the squeamish. There are quite a few parts of the movie that I did not watch, when I knew the blood and gore were coming. You can mostly avoid seeing too much if that sort of thing bothers you too, though there is one scene that is a bit abrupt and so you'll likely be unable to avoid the first couple seconds of that.
I'd never seen the stage musical myself and only had a fleeting idea of the general story. Sweeney Todd is a man who has been severely wronged, and he returns to take his vengeance on the man who wronged him. He ends up partnering with Mrs. Lovett, who unsuccessfully makes meat pies, and their dark association leads to a boon to her business when they discover that his killing provides the perfect ingredient to her now-popular meat pies that the town devours, not knowing what exactly it is they are consuming.
I found the opening credits to be a bit more stylized than I generally prefer, especially since it's very obviously CGI. For me, that tone didn't quite fit with the gothic nature of the rest of the film, though it only takes a few seconds of seeing the opening credits to know that it's definitely a Tim Burton film.
However, the first shots of London define the look and feel of the rest of the film. And with Johnny Depp's first line of song, you are pulled into the film. As a matter of fact, he is so engaging that you pretty much are glued to him every time he's on screen. He doesn't play a caricature of the embittered, deeply disturbed man - he plays the pain and festering anger with complete believability.
As much praise as I have for Johnny Depp, I cannot say the same for Helena Bonham Carter. I am usually a fan of hers, and while I can't quite pinpoint what I didn't like about her, her character and her singing just never seemed to gel with the rest of the film for me.
Alan Rickman is no stranger to playing the bad guy, but boy this bad guy is way beyond all the rest. His singing was ok, but I never felt he was comfortable doing that.
Sacha Baron Cohen makes an inspired appearance as a temporary foil for Sweeney Todd.
And yes, that *was* Giles with the one line.
Never having heard the songs before, I generally liked them. I liked the reprise of "No Place Like London" that occurs periodically, though I didn't much care for "Poor Thing". My favorite as far as staging and just darkness was "A Little Priest".
The overall look of London and one sequence of shots in particular oddly reminded me of the techniques used in "Moulin Rouge" to depict Paris and Montmartre.
HERE'S YOUR SPOILER WARNING. IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE FILM AND DON'T WANT TO BE SPOILED, STOP READING NOW. EVERYTHING AFTER THIS POINT CONTAINS MEGA-SPOILERS.
No, seriously, I'm not kidding, spoilers galore ahead.
OK, you've been warned.
When Sweeney Todd tells the story of the barber who was wrongfully imprisoned and whose wife and child was taken away from him by the evil judge, you can see how that has made its mark on his character, especially after Mrs. Lovett tells him that his wife poisoned herself with cyanide to escape the judge's grasp, not to mention that the judge also now has his daughter. His first kill is also at least understandable since Pirelli was going to blow his cover, and Todd does really kill out of a fit of rage. But it's really Mrs. Lovett who pushes him over the edge. She is at first appalled by the killing, but when Todd explains why he did it, she completely accepts that as reasonable, and it is in fact her idea to use his dead bodies as pie filling. The subsequent killings are a lot less personal, as we later learn that they've been very careful about who to target, and we see that Todd only gives a shave to the man who had brought along his wife and child. But since chance has it that his young friend from the ship is the one who also then falls in love with his now-15-year-old daughter, he is bent on saving her as well as exacting his revenge on the judge. He does finally get his revenge (the judge catches site of his wife and then and there arranges for him to be taken away, and then he takes their child and locks her away and peeps at her and then decides, oh, it's time to marry her? Wow, a true gentleman. But then, he did sentence a little boy to hanging), but in true Greek tragedy style, he also discovers that he has in fact murdered his own wife, not dead from the cyanide poisoning as Mrs. Lovett had led him to believe. You knew that when he was waltzing with her at the end, he wasn't going to forgive what she had done, so it was no surprise when he threw her into the baking oven and locked it shut. He grieves over his dead wife, and poetically, he invites the helper boy to slit his throat, so that he dies while holding his dead wife, his blood mingling with hers. (Yes, I saw bits of this, even though it was pretty gruesome, but it worked really well regardless.) The daughter and her young suitor presumably escape, with neither carrying knowledge of all the horrors that have happened.
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