Sweeney Todd: A Review

My sister and I caught Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street last night for the third time. I don’t usually see movies more than once in the theatres, but I was happy to make an exception for such a remarkable film.

Having never seen the stage version and having not been familiar with the music, my excitement for the movie came from the always-interesting collaboration between Johnny Depp and Tim Burton. Throw in the promise of getting to hear Johnny Depp sing? I was hooked the moment I heard about it.

There are two things to keep in mind if you plan on seeing this film: (1) there will be music (and lots of it), and (2) there will be blood (and lots of it). A lot of people with whom I’ve spoken were surprised at one or both of those aspects. So there you have it. You’ve been warned.

That being said, the blood is more of the Kill-Bill variety than of the torture porn variety. Yes, you see throats being slit, and you see blood spurting, but it’s so thick, gooey, and vibrantly red compared to the rest of the color palette that it’s almost comical. There are some extremely disturbing images in this film, though, so don’t think that it’s in any way, shape or form appropriate for kids. Stories don’t get much darker than this, and not even all adolescents can handle it, so keep that in mind when deciding whom to bring with you.

After my first viewing, I wished they had played up some of the more comic elements of the film. But Sweeney Todd seems to be a film that only gets better upon multiple viewings; case in point, I found myself chuckling at much more regular intervals throughout the film last night. The humor is very subtle in a lot of places, but it’s more evident as you get to know the story and the characters better.

My biggest (and perhaps only) criticism of the film is that I wanted to know what became of Johanna and Anthony. While the film isn’t about them, they were really the only source of purity and innocence in the film, and I wanted resolution for them as well as for myself. One review of the film I read a while back said that it seemed like Tim Burton didn’t really know what to do with them, so he simply omitted most of their story. That’s a fairly accurate analysis.

As for the acting, I thought Helena Bonham Carter was marvelous as Mrs. Lovett. I’m not sure why she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for her performance, though with the snubs for Best Picture and Best Director as well, I’m thinking perhaps the Academy has a vendetta against Mr. Burton. Kudos must also go to 14-year-old Ed Sanders, who plays Toby, possibly the most tragic character in a film overflowing with them. His voice and acting range are both very impressive, especially among the heavyweights that are Ms. Carter and Mr. Depp.

Speaking of whom, Mr. Depp’s performance in this film is well-deserving of the Best Actor nod from the Academy. The range of emotion he shows in this role, often with just his eyes, is phenomenal. It’s a nuanced performance, and you have to watch carefully to see how his character progresses from cynical to vengeful to being driven mad with rage. The way he uses his voice in the film literally gave me chills on numerous occasions. I can’t count the number of times I’ve listened to “Epiphany,” but every time I hear him growl, “I want you bleeders,” I simultaneously cower and squeal with glee. I’m not sure there’s another actor out there who could have pulled off making a murderous barber like Sweeney Todd not only sympathetic and tragic but also magnetic.

I won’t be seeing Sweeney Todd a fourth time in theatres, but I am eagerly anticipating adding the DVD to my collection. In my opinion, this is the best of Tim Burton’s work. If you admire his style, make sure you catch it before it’s out of theatres.

One thought on “Sweeney Todd: A Review

  1. Pingback: Recap: 12 October 2009 « Elizabethan Theatre

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