There may be surprises in the pies but there ain’t none in this movie!
Director: Tim Burton.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen (yes really!).
What’s it about? Benjamin Barker (Depp) is leading a happy life, with a pretty little wife and a new baby daughter. That is, until Judge Turpin (Rickman) convicts him of a crime he didn’t commit and then, to top it all, steals his wife and daughter away. Fifteen years later, Barker is back with a desire for revenge and some very sharp razor blades…
London, 19th century dreary Victorian London: the perfect setting for a Burton movie. He doesn’t have to create darkness: it’s already there in great smoggy loads. While Burton harbours an old-fashioned romantic streak in him, and can produce bright colourful movies (‘Big Fish’ for example), one senses that he enjoys darkness the most, not just in tone but in the visual sense as well, as seen in ‘Sleepy Hollow’ and ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’. And with Johnny Depp as his muse, Burton has it made due to Depp’s gothlike pallor and, thus, instant ability to fit into any ‘dark’ film role.
‘Sweeney Todd’ provided a great opportunity to unleash ye olde Burton recipe. Depp would do as Todd naturally, Burton’s own fiancée, Helena Bonham Carter, always at home in a corset, could fill the part of Mrs. Lovett and lo and behold, there must’ve been a vat of fake blood left over from ‘Sleepy Hollow’ because it’s put to good use here for the gory barber scenes. For Burton fans, it seems like little can go wrong.
Yet, it’s all so familiar that one ends up yearning for something new and surprising, and unfortunately, it just never arrives. Yes, there’s plenty singing going on, but only two or three of the songs are actually memorable. (‘No Place Like London’ and ‘A Little Priest’ probably stand out the most). The problem here is largely down to Depp’s character, who himself provides much of the singing; I say Depp’s character, as opposed to Depp himself, because I honestly believe that he followed all the rules for playing the part of a broken man, hellbent on revenge. Unfortunately, Todd is so introverted that he comes across as zombie-like and ultimately, dare I say it, a tad boring. Had we known something more of his personality before Judge Turpin packed him off to Australia, we may then take a greater interest in his new demeanour. But we are only ever offered glimpses of his bygone days. Bonham Carter, by contrast, is enjoyable to watch and adds charm to her role. Her daydream, in which Todd and herself enjoy days by the sea as man and wife, provides a patch of colour and some much needed comic relief. The rest of the hilarity comes from Sacha Baron Cohen’s supporting role as Signor Adolfo Pirelli, an ‘Italian’ potion seller. In fact, most of the supporting roles are well cast, particularly Rickman, Spall and Ed Sanders who plays the part of Toby, Pirelli’s one time assistant. The only weak links here are Jamie Campbell Bower and Jayne Wisener whose pair of young lovers are a little watery and lacking passion.
‘Sweeney Todd’ is a simple but satisfactory tale, and had been popular on stage for many years before the it hit the big screen. Mixing music with horror might seem challenging but its success in the theatres had surely proved that it could work well. Although the deaths are grisly, Burton’s use of ott orange-red blood adds a comic book feel to the events, so that audiences are not left feeling too distraught. Overall, ‘Sweeney Todd’ is worth seeing if only to witness how one can mesh murder and music, and if you’re a Burton/Depp fan, there are certainly moments that will please. Just don’t expect anything very original.