Andy Bockelman: 'Sweeney Todd' dark, powerful film


Guaranteed to send shivers down your spine and forever frighten you from getting a haircut is Tim Burton's version of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."

As Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) returns to Britain after a lengthy exile, he reflects on the circumstances that led to his unjust imprisonment.

Once a joyful man with a wife (Laura Michelle Kelly) and daughter, his life was destroyed by the jealousy of the despicable Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) whose desire for Barker's beloved spouse led to him framing the innocent man.

Now assuming the alias Sweeney Todd, the hardened man returns to the barbershop that he ran before his arrest only to discover that his wife has killed herself after being raped by Turpin and that the judge has taken custody of his daughter (Jayne Wisener).

Along with his flirtatious landlady Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), Todd concocts a bloody plan for revenge against the official, which extends to an even more brutal scheme.

Depp is a marvel as the justifiably violent and savage Sweeney Todd, a sharp turn from one of Depp's most popular characters, the gentle but tragic Edward Scissorhands. Todd's effectiveness with a razor is far from subtle, but certainly unforgettable. Bonham Carter is a gothic delight as Mrs. Lovett, whose rancid meat pies become mysteriously popular once Todd returns.

Rickman, born to play villains, is superb as the abhorrent Turpin, as is Timothy Spall as Turpin's community watchdog, the vicious Beadle Bamford.

Last but not least, as huckster and rival barber Adolfo Pirelli, Sacha Baron Cohen gives a performance that his own Borat would deem "very nice!"

Director Burton ideally visualizes the story, which has been given numerous treatments for more than 100 years.

His usual casting choices of wife Bonham Carter and Depp are as wonderful as ever, both appearing much paler than a healthy human should, as do most characters of Burton's movies.

The absence of composer Danny Elfman's music (part of practically every Burton film) is hardly noticeable with the score by Stephen Sondheim, who created the original Broadway musical with Hugh Wheeler.

The evocative melodies fit well with the characters, among which there are murderers, rapists and blackmailers.

Despite their titles, songs like "My Friends" and "Pretty Women" are quite disconcerting, the former referring to Sweeney's razors and the latter being a prelude to a throat-slitting. This seemingly endless amount of gruesome substance is what will be the deciding factor for viewers. Although there are a few moments of sweetness, make no mistake - this musical is much more intense than any of its kind recently.

"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" may not have audiences dancing in the aisles, but its powerful imagery will strike a chord with lovers of Burton's dark and deep brand of work.


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