Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mini Review: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (****)

"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" is a great musical. But it's also a veritably creepy horror movie and an effective human drama. But it's mostly a musical. That Tim Burton was even able to pull this off (after the poor reception to the 80s film version and a late-90s direct-to-cable release, the Broadway smash was thought to be unfilmable from then on) is a testament to his talents as a director of quirky, dark, strangely funny works. "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" is among his finest, a dark, grim, almost savagely intimate classic of both its genres.

Benjamin Barker is a barber whose marriage comes to an abrupt halt when his wife and child are stolen (yes, stolen) by a ruthless politician. He's sent to prison on false charges of treason and sedition. Upon his return, Benjamin has changed his name to Sweeney Todd, given into depression and given up on hope. Soon, a rival barber by the name of Signor Adolfo Pirelli arrives in town. Sweeney simply won't have it, so he and local piemaker Mrs. Lovett cook up a scheme: Kill people, cook their remains, and bake them into pies.

Overall, "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" is Burton's most nihilistic and unbelievably savage film yet, but it's still a twisted delight to watch. As with most of 2007's films, the cinematography is beguiling, it's use of blacks and grays contrasting nicely with the red blood. Interestingly, the blood gives the film a morbid beauty.

This is Johnny Depp at his finest. Yes, he's showy and brilliant in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" trilogy, but his role in this film is the most effective in a long time. Equally powerful are Helena Bonham Carter and Alan Rickman, both utterly snubbed for their roles. But the very best in the film was Borat--ahem, Sacha Baron Cohen in the cameo role as Pirelli. Cohen's a force of nature.

All in all, as you will see with my long-delayed Top Ten of 2007 later this month or early next month, "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" is one of Burton's masterpieces and one of the best films last year.

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