Monday, January 28, 2008

Sweeney Todd

The verdict: A very likeable bloody musical with Tim Burton's unmistakeable signature, and two outstanding central performances.

The rating: 7/10

Oh great, so Johnny Depp can sing as well now? Way to make the rest of us all feel even more inadequate there Johnny. At least none of us were in 21 Jumpstreet though, eh!? Hehe, score one to Paddy... (Uh, yeah, that sure showed him... - Ed). Johnny's Keith faux Richards schtick has made him a household name, but in Sweeney Todd, he demonstrates a real ability to sing capably, while also appearing to do an impression of David Bowie..

To the marketing men, Tim Burton's musical horror may look like something of a risky undertaking. First, much of the dialogue is sung, by Depp, Bonham Carter, and even Alan Rickman.. The main risk however, would appear to be the gore factor, which is very high, especially by musical standards. However, this short-sighted view, although to be expected from movie marketeers, overlooks the fact that Steven Sondheim's musical has a great deal of success to its name, and more importantly, that audiences are far more willing to take risks with their cinematic input than they are often given credit for.

To keep the marketeers happy however, Depp is the most 'bankable' movie star of this decade, and the story is tailor-made for Tim Burton's shadowy eye. Ably assisted by Dante Ferretti (production design) and Dariusz Wolski (cinematography) the crew have put a darkly threatening, monochrome London on screen, where a pall of black smoke fills the sky and the grey concrete walls of mazy alleys encroach, and are filled with shadows.

This view of London fits with how Benjamin Barker (Depp) would see it, returning as he is to the city after fifteen years of foreign false imprisonment. His mission, as he makes clear right from the off, is to get revenge on the man who separated him from his wife and child. He rents a room over Mrs. Lovett's (Helena Bonham Carter) pie shop, and begins plotting a grisly revenge on the judge who wrongly convicted him. He insists he is no longer Benjamin Barker, and takes the name of Sweeney Todd, a name that Depp delivers with just the right dose of menace.

Once Todd is reunited with his trusty razors, its not long before the first splatters of blood hit the screen. However, Todd and Mrs. Lovett suddenly realise that they need to dispose of the body, but what with meat being so expensive these days, and what with Mrs. Lovett's pie shop doing such terrible business lately and all... perhaps you can see where this is going?

The simple story of revenge is played extremely well by Depp, with the setting and his pallor and performance evoking obvious memories of Edward Scissorhands, even if Sweeney Todd's character, and uses of his blades are entirely different. However, the extra layer of the story, the symbiotic business relationship between the barber and the pie shop, is a delicious satire on consumerism, and fits the mischievous mood of the piece perfectly.

The songs are undramatic, and these are not the razzamatazz musical numbers from 'Chicago' or 'Dreamgirls', not by any means. Generally, the songs are introspective, hushed numbers, where the characters quietly vocalise their thoughts, without pomp or ceremony, and this should placate those audience members who wouldn't normally go see a musical. Depp and Bonham Carter deliver the songs very capably however, and their two central performances are thoroughly deserving of any award nods they get. Of particular note is Bonham Carter's song of an imagined future together with Mr. Todd, where she pictures them travelling for a seaside holiday, a very funny moment.

This is a very professionally made, off-beat and likeable movie, and the two perfectly cast central performances are worth the admission price. The story features enough strong characters to hold the interest until the unconventional ending, and the mix of dark comedy and grisly action should keep even ardent anti-musicalists happy. It's well written, well performed, and has a real depth of production talent on show. What's not to like? Two thumbs up from PCMR.

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