Release Date: 12/21/07
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Sacha Baron Cohen
The twisted Broadway musical "Sweeney Todd" makes it to the silver screen, and who better to direct this demented tale of bloody vengeance than Tim Burton? Sadly, it's both a blessing and a curse, since it pretty much looks exactly like "Sleepy Hollow" (1999) and doesn't really show us anything new or different. It's wonderful if you like Burton's artistic style and theatrical flair, but I'm starting to feel jaded by his vision. That's not to say that it isn't a superbly made film. It just feels a little too... familiar.
Johnny Depp plays a barber named Benjamin Barker, who is framed by the evil Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) and sent to Australia for 15 years of hard labor. The motivation behind this treachery is to covet Barker's lovely wife and daughter. Upon returning to England, Barker is a dark and depraved man, adopting the name Sweeney Todd and plotting his vengeance against the judge. He teams up with an equally twisted woman named Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) who helps him with his schemes out of unrequited love for him. As Mr. Todd slices up unwitting customers, Mrs. Lovatt bakes them into meat pies. Unfortunately, there are obstacles on the road to vengeance, and Sweeney's violent acts ultimately lead to his undoing.
First of all, the film looks great and the desaturated cyan tones create a grim, foreboding, and dirty atmosphere. This also makes the gratuitous bloodletting all the more shocking with its bright contrast. Secondly, the casting is superb, and both Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter deliver some of their finest work to date. Alan Rickman and Sacha Baron Cohen make excellent villains, although their singing voices aren't particularly strong. Thankfully, their moments are brief enough to let you revel in the bizarre fact that they actually are singing. Naturally, as a musical the score is especially strong and vibrant, and almost overpowering at times. Good stuff. In keeping with tradition, Burton makes sure to drench Depp in blood whenever he gets the chance, and the film is disturbingly gruesome. I've never seen arterial spray so effectively and viscerally displayed, and it made me flinch on several occasions. This is definitely NOT a film for the squeamish or weak of stomach. As it seems to be the case with the recent onslaught of torture porn on the market, I find it increasingly disturbing that this level of sadistic and frighteningly realistic violence is being passed off as entertainment these days. If I had one complaint about the film, I would say that despite its macabre presentation, the classical themes of tragedy and revenge suffer from being way too predictable and formulaic. Again, back to that overbearing feeling of familiarity. However, it's also refreshingly bleak and utterly joyless, which sets it apart from nearly everything else that's being cranked out of Hollywood these days.