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Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

USA/UK 2008
produced by
John Logan, Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes, Richard D. Zanuck, Patrick McCormick (executive) for the Zanuck Company/DreamWorks, Warner Brothers
directed by Tim Burton
starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jamie Campbell Bower, Laura Michelle Kelly, Jayne Wisener, Ed Sanders, Gracie May, Ava May, Gabrielle Freeman, Jody Halse, Aron Paramor, Lee Whitlock, Nick Haverson, Mandy Holliday, Colin Higgins, John Paton, Graham Bohea, Daniel Lusardi, Ian McLarnon, Phill Woodfine, Toby Hefferman, Charlotte Child, Kira Woolman, David McKail, Philip Philmar, Gemma Grey, Sue Maund, Emma Hewitt, Buck Holland, Peter Mountain, Harry Taylor
screenplay by John Logan, based on the musical by Stephen Sondheim & Hugh Wheeler, adaptation by Christopher Bond, music by Stephen Sondheim, special effects by Escape Studios, visual effects by Visual Effects Company, Moving Picture Company (MPC)

Sweeney Todd

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Years ago, barber Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp) has fled Britain, being accused  of a crime he didn't commit, while Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), the very man responsible for his escape, took in Todd's naive wife and child, taking full advantage of the situation. Now Todd is back, and sets up a barber shop on top of Mrs Lovett's (Helena Bonham Carter) meatshop, which sells the worst meatpies in town, and Todd plans to have his revenge on Turpin, as well as freeing his daughter Joanna (Jane Wisener), who has become the judge's ward, from his clutches. But after his first attempt to kill the judge fails, Todd goes a bit mad and decides to from now on kill his customers by slitting their throats, and let Mrs Lovett to have the dead bodies to turn them into meatpies - and with human flesh inside, Mrs Lovett's meatpies become a hit after all.

Thing is, Mrs Lovett's little helper Toby (Edd Sanders) - whom she freed from the clutches of Todd's cruel rival barber Pirelli (Sacha Baron Cohen), Todd's first victim - eventually becomes suspicious of Todd's business practices and tries to warn Mrs Lovett, not knowing that she's his accomplice and also madly in love with Todd ...

Meanwhile, Todd has deviced a plan to free Joanna with the help of sailor Anthony (Jamie Campbell Bower), who's madly in love with her, and lure the judge to his barber shop to kill him. Joanna is freed alright, and the judge gets his just desserts, but from now on everything goes downhill: Todd kills a beggar woman (Laura Michelle Kelly) who has become a witness, only to then recognize her as his wife the judge stole all those years ago. When Todd then learns that Mrs Lovett knew about that he also kills her by throwing her into her own incinerator. Todd also almost kills his own Joanna without recognizing her, and in the end, he himself is killed by young Toby, avenging Mrs Lovett's death ...

 


I have to admit, initially I had little hopes for the film, not at least because I am a fan of Tod Slaughter's Sweeney Todd from 1936, think that Johnny Depp looks too young for the role, and don't see much of an potential to turn the source material as it is into a musical. Bearing all that in mind, I was rather pleasently surprised by the movie: The musical aspects of the musical are rather downplayed and there are no dance routines, Depp doesn't try to imitate Slaughter but gives a powerful performance that even outbalances his deficits as a singer, director Tim Burton relies on the gothic and Grand Guignol aspects of the story rather than musical kitsch, and the key actors (including a self-consciously campy performance by Sacha Baron Cohen) are all great. Thing is, they are all no great singers - which might actually help the movie inasmuch as it tones down the schmaltzier musical numbers.

Now I wouldn't say this is a masterpiece, but surprisingly, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street turns out to be a rather good film.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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