Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Aloha Brodie Fanns!

New review.

But before I start, you led a good life, Heath. It took me while to warm up to you, and I’m going to miss what you could have given us in the future. You had an immense and dynamic talent that was just starting to show. But your swan song looks phenomenal. To you, Joker/Skip/Ennis/Casanova/Patrick/Heath Ledger, I raise my glass.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

3.5 Stars

Sweeney Todd is a conundrum of a movie. And sad as it is to say, I have to use a Simon Cowell quote on this one: “Yeah it was good, but so what?” Tim Burton, you’re a one trick pony whose trick is getting very old.

Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) was a happily married man with a beautiful baby daughter and a nice little barber shop. Until the jealous Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) decides he should have Barker’s wife for himself, and forces Barker into exile. Sixteen years later, Barker, now calling himself Sweeney Todd, returns from Australia, only to learn that his wife is dead and his daughter now the charge of Turpin. Todd and his meat pie shop running land-lady Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) hatch a plan to lure Turpin to the new barber shop on the second floor of the pie shop, where they will kill and cook him for her pies. Subplot being that the sailor Todd sailed with from Australia, a young man named Anthony Hope (Jamie Campbell Bower) has fallen instantly and madly in love with Johanna (Jayne Weisner), who just so happens to be Turpin’s charge, a.k.a. Barker’s daughter. What a small world we live in. Even smaller by 18th century standards. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, it’s a bloody musical. Literally, bloody. One of the goriest musicals I’ve ever seen.

Here’s the thing. Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands) has always been a master of the visually beautiful, yet mostly macabre comedies. Sweeny Todd is definitely the perfect fit for Tim. But there in lies the problem. That’s pretty much all he can do. The man has no range. While one could argue, that he’s found his voice, there are plenty of directors out there who have found their voice. And their voice isn’t as mono-tonal as the love child of Steven Wright and Ben Stein. Spielberg is one. While there are certain thematic elements that remain constant in his films, his “trademarks” if you will, I ask you, would you guess that E.T. and Saving Private Ryan were made by the same person?

That’s because he has range. He can explore his own boundaries as a film maker. Burton pretty much refuses to move outside his comfort zone. So while he is a decent and competent director, he isn’t that dynamic. It brings me back to my first point… It was good, but so what? It’s the same thing we’ve been seeing from him for the past twenty years.

Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean), on the other hand, continues to explore his bounds as an actor. It was his first singing role and he nailed it with perfection. I had my doubts, not that I didn’t think Depp could do it, it’s just, he’s never struck me as a singer. There were times when his vocal characterization of Todd was very reminiscent of Cpt. Jack Sparrow. Though I suppose when you play characters of the same era and similar geographic backgrounds, that’s bound to happen.

Where would this film be without the outstanding supporting cast? I don’t know, but probably with less stars in this review and even less awards. Bonham Carter (Fight Club) was fantastic as the daft Mrs. Lovett, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the absolutely fantastic performance of young newcomer Ed Sanders (literally nothing, this was his first film) as the orphan Toby, who was a hawker for Sacha Baron Cohen’s (Borat) Adolfo Pirelli wonderful hair growth elixir, and became a worker in the meat pie shop. He was fantastic, holding his on against both Cohen and Depp, two of the finest actors in today’s market.

While this film was entertaining, and gloriously gory, I fail to find the true ingenuity in seeing the same thing over and over. My plea to Tim Burton: there’s this thing called the box, and there’s a big wide world of filmmaking outside of it… check it out sometime.

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