Sunday, 20 September 2020
Sweeney Todd
Written by Sandra Fitzpatrick   
Monday, 24 December 2007 00:00
Tell me, is there anything Johnny Depp can’t do? He’s been a scissor-handed freak, a bumbling schoolteacher, a Latin lover, an infamous drug smuggler, and of course one hell of a pirate! Now Depp gets to try his hand at something that requires a steady hand, and a steady voice, as he takes on the role of a murdering barber in the musical Sweeney Todd.

As the film opens Benjamin Barker, aka Sweeney Todd, is returning to London after having been exiled for fifteen years for crimes he did not commit. The “virtuous” Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) had him arrested as a means to seducing Todd’s beautiful wife who rejects him, but not before Turpin has his way with her in a most un-virtuous manner. When Todd finally arrives he hears that his wife has poisoned herself and his daughter has become the ward of the Judge who seems to have an unhealthy obsession with the young girl as well.

The only person left who remembers Todd is Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), the owner of a greasy meat pie shop with a reputation for serving the worst meat pies in London. And from the looks of the slop she puts in them we believe it! He vows to take vengeance with the only tools in his possession, his trusted barber knives. With Todd butchering - I mean barbering - upstairs and Mrs. Lovett baking downstairs it is a recipe for success that neither of them can resist.

Director Tim Burtons’ gothic style and dark sense of humor are a perfect fit for this gory tale. He certainly has a flare for spectacular visuals and a tendency for the theatrical that translate well to the musical format. Over the years Burton has developed his own very distinctive style and seems to like working with many of the same people repeatedly including Johnny Depp. The two have worked together on a total of six films starting with Edward Scissorhands which skyrocketed Depp’s film career. Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Corpse Bride followed and now the two are apparently great friends.

Burton’s muses generally have pale complexions, dark unruly hair and rather large eyes, making Helena Bonham Carter a natural choice as Burton’s leading lady both on-screen and off. At first I had my doubts that Bonham Carter was the right choice to play Mrs. Lovett. She’s obviously got the look, but what about the pipes?  I needn’t have feared since she does a spectacular job! Her voice may be a bit thin and reedy, but adds some much needed sweetness and depth to the role. It’s not easy to hold your own against a scene-stealer like Depp!

Depp’s own voice is surprisingly strong reminding me strongly of David Bowie, but looking more than a little like Jack White of The White Stripes. All the more reason to swoon for Sweeney! Makes me wish I had access to the vocal coaches used in films like this.

Sweeney Todd is a brutal, bloodbath that is a whole lot of fun to watch! Visually a stunner, and with really strong performances to match this is one of the few winners this holiday season. I give Sweeney Todd 8 out of 10.