Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

February 20, 2008 at 5:39 pm Leave a comment


The big-screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s musical has everything you could want in a Tim Burton film, plus singing.

Johnny Depp plays Sweeney Todd, who used to be Benjamin Barker, a young and talented London barber with a newborn baby and a beautiful wife.  The future looks bright for Barker, until the jealous Judge Turpin falsely accuses Barker of a crime and has him sent away for 15 years.  In the meantime, Turpin adopts Barker’s daughter and Mrs. Barker is reported to have died.  Barker returns as the hate-filled Sweeney Todd, who’s sole purpose is to kill those responsible and reunite with his family.

This is quite possibly the darkest Tim Burton film yet, filled with drab imagery, muted colors, and very pale-looking people.  The cinematography is top-notch, allowing the mise-en-scene to fully allow the audience into the mind of Sweeney Todd.  Only in one sequence is there any real color, but most of the time it looks almost black-and-white.

The cast is uniformly excellent, with Johnny Depp at his gloomiest.  Even when he’s happy, it’s a sick, twisted happy; thrilled at the thought of taking more lives to exact his revenge.  Helena Bonham Carter plays Mrs. Lovett, the equally gloomy(yet still smokin’ hot) baker that owns a pie shop  under Todd’s room.  She shows interest in Todd from the very beginning and helps him formulate a plan to kill Turpin and his sidekick/henchman Beadle Bamford.

As for the film itself, it has some pacing problems in the second act, making it seem drawn-out.  The runtime is about 2 hours, but it feels like 2 1/2 hours since it seems like they try to cram so much in the second act.  The third act is fine for the most part, as everything moves along at a quick pace, plus the violence level ramps up a bit giving you more to look at (or turn away from, as one of my friends did at the screening).  The singing is fine, with Johnny Depp handling his song with appropriate range.  The only ones I was iffy about is Professor Snape… I mean Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall, but since they’re singing is relegated to only a few minutes, it’s tolerable.  Helena Bonham Carter is fine, too, but she’s no Nicole Kidman.  One thing worth mentioning is the slight dash of comedy sprinkled throughout the film.  The sequence mentioned earlier, the one with some real color, is pretty funny, and the violence is handled in such a cartoony way that most of the audience was laughing through most of it.  Also, Sacha Baron Cohen’s cameo as rival barber Pirelli is hilarious.

Tim Burton fans owe it to themselves to see this film.  Unfortunately, it proves that Burton may be a great storyteller, but he’s not exactly a great director.  He is able to make you care for such an anti-hero, and to cheer every time Sweeney Todd severs an artery with his razors.  It might be more of a problem with the script than with Burton’s direction, but the pacing issues keep the movie from being considered a classic.  Still, it is enjoyable to a point, and can be a great film to watch with the right people.


This film played at my school via a DVD screener copy that was sent from the studio.  Right about when the movie started picking up (toward the end of the second act), the DVD kept screwing up and I think we missed the first few minutes of the last act.  Poo on that. Oh yeah, I thought of an awesome parody movie, called Sweaty Todd.  Don’t know what it could be about yet, but the title made me laugh real hard.


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