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September 20, 2009

Sweeney Todd - Review

Was channel-surfing last night after the Canucks game, and stumbled upon Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street just starting on a movie channel!  Since we had tried to go see it when it was in theaters, we decided to stick around and watch it. I'm glad we did, though it is one strange and bloody movie.

The story is basically one of revenge.  In Victorian London, a barber by the name of Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) was wrongfully accused and convicted of a crime by Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), a man who has taken a fancy to Barker's wife.  After fifteen years of exile, Barker comes back as Sweeney Todd, bent on avenging his wife and daughter.  He meets up with the widow Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), proprietress of a meat pie shop on Fleet Street.  She tells him that his wife killed herself and Turpin has now taken his daughter Joanna (Jayne Wisener) as his ward.  Coincidentally, Todd had met a sailor, Anthony (Jamie Campbell Bower), who becomes infatuated with Joanna.  Todd goes back to his barber practice, using it in an attempt to kill Judge Turpin with his pristine razors.  But then things get complicated.

Sweeney Todd is based on the Stephen Sondheim musical of the same name, and all of the actors acquit themselves well in their singing roles.  It sounds like they all put a lot of work into getting the singing right, as there is no lip syncing in this movie at all.  Depp is fabulous, though occasionally off; Carter is actually very good as well.  Rickman is marvelous as Turpin, his words dripping with malevolence like he was playing Severus Snape on evil steroids or something.  I wasn't as enamored with his singing as I could have been, but it was definitely ok.  He only sang a duet with Depp, and sadly Depp overshadows him there.  But acting-wise, Rickman is up to his usual self.

The only downsides as far as the singing went are Sasha Baron Cohen and Bower, both of whom kind of annoyed me when they were singing.  Bower's character was pretty annoying anyway, but it was only heightened when he sang.  I loved Cohen's character of Mr. Pirelli, the man with the magic hair-restoring elixir who gets in a "shave-off" with Todd on the street.  But the song he sings isn't the most successful.

Tim Burton's direction, the cinematography and set design are all wonderful, really making you feel like you're in dusty, dirty Victorian London.  I loved the touches like Mrs. Lovett pulling a chunk of bread from below the counter and blowing the dust off of everything.  It's no wonder she has no customers!  Until she and Todd concoct a plan to add a secret special ingredient into her pies, that is.  Everything is dark and brooding, which fits the tone of the movie, too.

The only major downside of the movie for me was that two of the characters simply disappear at the end with no real resolution to their storyline.  Given the way things are going, you have to assume that they go off and live happy lives, but it would have been nice to get a bit more of a hint about that.  The movie turns very bloody (he's a demon barber, of course it's going to be bloody!), so if you're squeamish, then you might not want to watch.  The blood effects, however, are quite surreal, adding to the feeling of unreality that Burton usually establishes in his movies.  And the fate of some of the characters is actually quite shocking, at least in execution (so to speak).

All in all, I really enjoyed Sweeney Todd. Virtuoso performances by some great actors who I never would have thought I'd see singing (Depp actually sings in this movie, unlike his other singing role, Cry Baby, where he lip synced) really make the movie.  If you get a chance to watch this (and don't faint at the sight of fake blood), unless you just can't stand musicals, you should definitely do so.  You'll enjoy it.


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