Movie Review – Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
– Summary –
Director : Tim Burton
Cast : Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Jayne Wisener, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jamie Campbell Bower, Laura Michelle Kelly, Ed Sanders.
Year Of Release : 2007
Length : 116 Minutes
Synopsis: An English barber returns to London from exile, seeking retribution against the man who stole his wife. He joins forces with a pastry cook to dispose of the remains of his victims inside her meat pies.
Review : Filled to the brim with style, Burton’s foray into musical cinema leaves a somewhat empty taste in the mouth, and a surprisingly odd sensation of a film that’s devoid of true emotion. The cast try hard, but Burton lacks the ability to develop the characters to a cinematic level.
Tim Burton is a director of a singular vision. It’s hard not to notice his style of film-making. Dark and foreboding, his style is unmistakable. Although trying his hand at more conventional fare with Planet of The Apes and Big Fish, he has retained his significant fan base through efforts such as Edward Scissorhands, Batman, Sleepy Hollow and Corpse Bride by maintaining a certain sense of style that is utterly his. With Sweeney Todd, only Burton would be capable of telling this horrific musical tale in a way that was utterly captivating.
The problem with most of Burtons’ films, however, is that more often than not they are filled with style but ultimately lack the substance to carry the story. Batman was all sturm und drang, as was Sleepy Hollow and Planet of the Apes failed miserably, mainly due to a complete lack of good characterization. Burtons’ inability to gain audience empathy usually results in films that are less than they should be.
I am sad to say that here, Burton has again missed the mark. While the production design and camerawork is compelling, the characters, especially Johnny Depp’s Sweeney Todd, are distant and cold, removed from the viewer by a veneer of artificiality. Sure, Sweeney Todd is a musical, and a damn fine one from Stephen Sondheim, but in film, you need to empathize with the characters to gain an emotional connection. With this story, however, Burton is unable to crack the emotional truth of the story, and instead manages simply a gorgeous looking music video. Albeit, with some great casting.
While I cannot claim to have ever seen the stage version of this story, after a little research on the web, it would appear that Burton has modified things somewhat, to complement the film version rather than a stage version. Whether this is more or less successful would be utterly subjective, but suffice to say, this particular version is excellently mounted, but ultimately hollow.
Depp’s Todd is a strange beast, his quest for vengeance allowing him to murder anybody who gets in his way (and even people who don’t) and while hard to empathize with him for his tale of woe, he certainly does well with the material he is given. His singing voice is not as strong as perhaps would be suitable for the role, but he tries hard. Perennial Burton alumnus Helena Bonham Carter has fun as Mrs Lovett, the maker of the worlds worst pies, as she takes Todd into her life in order for his revenge plot to take place. The wonderful Alan Rickman is again cast as the “bad guy” (if there is such a thing in a film filled with murderous scum) and he plays it wonderfully, with Timothy Spall utterly disgusting (which is good) in his supporting role as a sycophantic dilettante.
The film is gruesome, in keeping with the story of a man who murders people to fulfill his vendetta against a corrupt judge in Victorian London, and Burton shows us the blood quite willingly. People get hacked, chopped, ground up and dismembered in various ways, but all the while, there’s a glint in everyone’s eyes to supplant the grisly nature of the proceedings: so much so that the throat slitting scenes are alternately appalling and necessary in their brutality. The higher MA15+ rating is certainly justified.
Sweeney Todd is a gorgeous looking film that is certainly handsomely mounted, but it leaves an empty feeling when it’s all said and done. A lack of emotional hook for the audience will ensure nobody get this film in the way it was obviously intended. Which is a pity, as the cast and crew try hard, but manage very little for the viewer to enjoy. If you enjoy pretty images, this film is for you. If you crave a story you can get your head into, then you may find Sweeney Todd sadly lacking.
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