Featured Post

The Man from Earth (reviewed by Ben)

You’ve probably noticed that most of the movies we review on this page are successful, or at least well-known. So you might be surprised th...

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sweeney Todd (reviewed by Ben)

There were more liquid ounces of fake blood used in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd (subtitled The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) than lines spoken (or sung). Despite that, even gore lovers will think the cannibal/barber movie over the top, the film itself was somewhat underwhelming. Movie musicals are always a risky thing, and in the case of this film adaptation of Sondheim’s play, the risk did not pay off.

This is the somewhat confusing story of Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp), who was once an innocent barber who was arrested and robbed of his family by the malicious Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman).  He later returns to London to seek justice under the name of Sweeney Todd, a much less innocent and much less forgiving barber, ready to kill Turpin with a handy barber’s razor.

He befriends the longtime Fleet street resident Ms. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) and discovers his daughter to be the ward of his enemy, Judge Turpin. His innocent work disguised as a haircuttery leads him to less innocent murder.  And because he works just as hard on business as justice, he merges with Ms. Lovett’s pie shop where she uses the human meat of his barbershop’s customers in her very popular meat pies.

It’s a happy life, and yet he is plagued with the desire to find and kill the judge who still has his daughter. This leads to desperate measures which leads to the downfall of all the residents of Fleet Street.

All in all, a decent setup and the oddly heartwarming music is among Sondheim’s finest. The film does have it’s moments and we can even relate to several characters, especially since the acting is not half bad, especially Depp’s.

However the story was over-complicated and the excessive blood was distracting from the already complex plotline, not to mention the work of the talented songwriter of better-scripted musicals like West Side Story, Into The Woods and A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum. The film Sweeney Todd sometimes seemed like a lame excuse to have a wild bloodbath, rather than treat Sondheim’s work with care.

Apart from the star-studded cast, I’d give credit to the film’s casting director for reuniting the cast of Harry Potter (Rickman, Timothy Spade, Helena Bonham Carter) and Tom Hooper’s just as over-the-top Les Miserables (Sacha Baron Cohen and Bohnam Carter). It was also fun to see the vocally talented Johnny Depp and the very talented child star Ed Sanders (as the barber/pie shop's kitchen-hand, Toby).  For a film that is not very well put together, the acting of many (especially Depp) is superb.

I would say that this bloodbath musical is alright, but mostly because of the acting and singing performances and the wonderful score. The extremely gory scenes as well as the extremely complex story bring down mine (and many other people’s) opinion of the Tim Burton film.

Dad replies: Count me as one of those people Ben just mentioned as not having a great opinion of Tim Burton’s take on Sondheim’s murderous stage musical.  I agree that there were lots of interesting things going on in the film, and the director did key into the irony of having such a violent story play out against songs with whimsical tunes with bloody lyrics.  But the in-your-face images of slashed throats spouting gore, not to mention hands and feet spewing out of a meat grinder (and onto people’s plates) numbed me to artistic subtly.  As Ben mentioned, the cast was a treat (metaphorically speaking, of course) and the original material certainly worked on stage.  So blame for this mishap has to be placed at the feet of Burton who decided to go over the top, rather than find the middle ground the material required.

No comments: