Movie Review: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Johnny Depp and Tim Burton join forces again in a big screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s award-winning musical thriller “Sweeney Todd.” Depp stars in the title role as a man unjustly sent to prison who vows revenge not only for that cruel punishment, but for the devastating consequences of what happened to his wife and daughter. When he returns to reopen his barber shop, Sweeney Todd becomes the Demon Barber of Fleet Street who ‘shaved heads of gentlemen who never thereafter were heard from again.’ Joining Depp is Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett, Sweeney’s amorous accomplice who creates diabolical meat pies. The cast also includes Alan Richman who portrays the evil Judge Turpin who sends Sweeney to prison and Timothy Spall as the Judge’s wicked associate Beadle Bamford and Sacha Baron Cohen is a rival barber the flamboyant Signor Adolfo Pirelli.

The Burton/Depp combination has done it again. The movie is a relatively faithful silver screen version of Stephen Sondheim’s murderous and sinister musical which is only enhanced by Tim Burton’s dark touch.

First, the performances were phenomenal. Johnny Depp is positively captivating in his portrayal as the lead character, a performance that has earned him a Critic’s Choice Award nomination and Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor. At no time did I lose feeling at least sympathetic to Depp’s character, which can be easily lost in an on-screen musical. Depp’s leading lady, Helena Bonham Carter, also provided a great performance under her domestic partner’s direction. While the role was familiar one for Carter – the slightly crazy sunken-eyed and white-skinned romantic interest – she made the amoral Mrs. Lovett not only likeable and interesting but a fantastic consort to the demon barber. Her performance unsurprisingly earned her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress. She also deserves kudos for filming the movie – including the dance scenes – while pregnant with her and Burton’s 2nd child. Sacha Baron Cohen, famous for Ali G and Borat, made a surprise performance as Sweeney Todd’s barber rival – a flashy humorous pause among the dark circumstances. Other remarkable performances were given by Alan Richman as the twisted Judge Turpin and Timothy Spall (recently seen in the “Harry Potter” series as Peter Pettigrew) as the Judge’s slimy associate.

Second, Burton’s version of the story stayed true to the feeling and intent of the original musical. Bloody and often disturbing, the musical explores the deep depravity that revenge and murder can create in a person. His portrayal of 1800’s London – the filth, the darkness and shadows, and perhaps most notably, the corruption – really creates an encompassing environment for the characters to interact in. Though very stylized, I felt it enhanced the story and my suspension of disbelief. Overall, I felt it was a disturbing but worthy 2 hours of my time. If you are a fan of Tim Burton, Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter and their previous work, you’ll love this movie.

Review by Marie Holzer

Grade: A
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