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Worth A Look: 26.37%
Average: 14.29%
Pretty Bad: 13.19%
Total Crap: 2.2%

9 reviews, 37 user ratings

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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
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by Erik Childress

"Burton's Guignol Less Than Grand This Time"
3 stars

In Kevin Smith’s Jersey Girl, Ben Affleck treats his young daughter to a trip into New York City offering to take her to a Broadway show of her choice. Her fancy was Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd and imagine dad’s shock when he saw the first dispatching by razor on stage. Actually the bigger question than his parenting skills was how such a successful New York publicity agent could not have known the contents of the blood-soaked musical. Could you really blame him though? Most musicals baring the name of Sondheim or Webber are worth the effort of focused amnesia even if their lexicon demands some base knowledge of the plotting. My own collective data concerning the vengeful tale of a two-bit shave man is enough to know that Tim Burton couldn’t have been a better choice to bring it to cinematic fruition. Bringing the musical numbers along for the ride isn’t necessarily pause-worthy as Burton’s work on the animated The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride as well as the oompa loompa song-and-dance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have proven he’s capable of having some fun with the medium. So with his regular leading man, Johnny Depp, in tow, a blood feast worthy of the R-rating it receives and a visual stock invested in the gothic Hammer productions he loves, where did Burton’s Sweeney Todd go so wrong?

Significantly cutting down the stagework from 180 to a more manageable 110 minutes, the answers to that question become more gradual during a pacing that has no room for a curtain break. Depp plays the one-time Benjamin Barker, a “naïve” barber happily married with child who became the target of a London Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) hot for his wife. A knock on the head and an eventual turnaround of defilement and poisoning to his wife, years later Sweeney Todd is born and returns to seek his revenge. Underneath his former shop now occupies meat pie maker, Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) who cheerfully admits in her dusty, infested kitchen that her product are the worst in London. Finally recognizing the ol’ barber, enraptured at rediscovering his shiny razors (known as his “friends”), she agrees to help him on his request on luring Turpin upstairs for the closest shave he’ll ever receive.

The best laid plans of mice and coiffeurs though don’t always come to fruition though. A rival barber in town, Adolfo Pirelli (Sacha Baron Cohen), threatens to blow the whistle on his new identity. The judge’s sniveling little assistant, Beadle Bamford (Timothy Spall) is always one step ahead of his boss. And the sailor boy who gave Benjamin a ride into town (Jamie Campbell Bower) not only is fixated on the lovely Johanna (Jayne Wisener), the daughter now under the care of the judge but mucks up Sweeney’s plans just when he’s on the verge of vengeance that it flips a switch in the stylist. Teaming up with Mrs. Lovett on a business venture predating hotel owner Vincent Smith, Sweeney begins acting as judge and jury himself on the dog-eat-dog patrons of society who deserve to be eaten themselves in a newly thriving pie industry.

Sweeney Todd’s story has all the elements of a tragedy that Shakespeare would loved to have stolen. But in his condensation, the song numbers don’t provide a sharing mood with the dramatic arc and thus suffocates it into an awkwardly staged final act that leaves us well too flat in the emotional department. While hardcore musical aficionados will disrespectfully disagree, Sondheim’s talky amalgams that serve as songs are hardly of the memorable variety and certainly won’t be what audiences are humming about over dinner afterwards, if their stomachs can handle it. No, that would be the blood. So much of it actually that Burton could actually switch titles with Paul Thomas Anderson’s holiday offering and most would be none the wiser.

The pre-release buzz that Burton drenched everything but the sprocket holes in the type of corn syrup that lit up the British Hammer productions (and which he used to greater effect in Sleepy Hollow) certainly arrives as promised. But while the build-up to the first serious bloodletting holds us riveted in squirmy anticipation, the middle portion’s montage of arterial spraying begins darkly humorous only to become as waning as the film’s drama. One impromptu slash towards the end sparks some shock back into our eyes, but once you’ve seen close to a dozen cuttings, the primary one we’ve been waiting for arrives with no feeling, no authority and too passé for anyone to remember this was the point of the whole mission to begin with. Maybe that was Burton’s intention – to manipulate us into the cold amoral mind that has warped Sweeney into a murdering automaton – but Turpin is given too little screen time and a pithy amount of menace (particularly compared to right-hand man Beadle) to effectively create a villain worthy of such a cheering brutality.

As our hero turned anti-hero, Depp is good as always but his performance is limited by the constraints of the stuffed-up musical numbers. We rarely get to take a breath even if Depp brings it nicely to a few of them (especially his “Pretty Women” duet with Rickman and the inception of his madness), but its mostly a lot of brooding, which serves him well in Mrs. Lovett’s love lament (the look on his face is priceless Depp) but keeps us at a distant much of the second half. Carter actually gets to outshine her partner in crime, getting many of the better songs and having a motivational arc that isn’t as simplistic as a corrupted mind. Those hoping Alan Rickman was getting his best bad guy role since Die Hard, think again, as he disappears for a long stretch in the middle and appears as conveniently as a wacky neighbor through the door in the final stages. Sacha Baron Cohen though continues a string of superb comic performances though (after Talladega Nights and Borat) and even tests the water of menace that the script dries up too often with half-cocked deus ex machinas for characters with either bad eyesight or lapsed memories to their histories with Benjamin/Sweeney.

Scuttled at most turns by the periphery characters’ infatuation with one another; a subplot whose lack of closure provides an even greater lack of its necessity other than to come in unannounced at the worst possible moment. The simplicity of Burton’s beautiful final image reminds us of how straightforward and undemanding the story is as a piece of vengeful tragedy. Maybe it would have required more work on the part of John Logan to craft a script that only required a few snips to the Sondheim musical, but telling his own songless version (as was done numerous times in book and film before Sondheim came along in 1979) should have been a standing triple for Burton to hit off the wall instead of hitting it head-on until the guignol nature became less than grand.

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originally posted: 12/21/07 16:00:00
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User Comments

12/17/18 Ajpwales Boring. Over the top. Burton gets worse. 1 stars
2/14/17 Louise Enjoyable gothic horror piece - love the songs! 4 stars
3/29/16 Aj wales Bad movie dressed up. 2 stars
8/19/09 Jon B Definitely a masterpiece by Tim Burton. 5 stars
3/08/09 jcanthony A slasher film dressed up as an art film musical. The story has no value. 2 stars
2/18/09 Sally Sundeen I was disappointed by this one...but i still liked it. Love Johnny Depp! 3 stars
1/10/09 lima beautiful songs and great actors, especially depp and rickman 5 stars
11/12/08 Michael M Not a musical like it, but what detracted from it was the singing. Could have been better. 3 stars
7/04/08 mike very different. didn't like it at first but loved it in the end 5 stars
6/12/08 Jayson Could have been better. Depp was a hoot. 3 stars
6/09/08 AnnieG Everyone marked for death will die. Musical horror tragedy - what a concept! 4 stars
5/25/08 mark madsen Kinda back and forth on this one 3 stars
4/14/08 Colleen Cousineau If it wasn't a musical...............It might have been ok. 3 stars
4/05/08 smrtpants enough of depp with scissors already! 3 stars
4/04/08 bloody mustache Huzzah! Burten and Depp weave their magic yet again, another shave please? 4 stars
3/30/08 M IF they just didnt sing, Depp/Helena great! 3 stars
3/24/08 Noodle Truly amazing songs. Haunting and beautiful 5 stars
3/07/08 Millie Maelstrom Implausible and overrated, plus Helena Bonham Carter is an ugly witch. 2 stars
3/05/08 Louise A gothic blood-soaked masterpiece! No one makes films quite like Burton! 5 stars
2/17/08 SamanthaP I really liked it, the blood gushing was awesome, and Johnny was freaking hot! 5 stars
1/28/08 Mike Nearly unwatchable - only gets 2 stars for production value. Hard to follow, bland singing. 2 stars
1/26/08 proper amateur film critic a musical with performers who cant sing 2 stars
1/23/08 john 'Once' , 'Across the Universe' light years better..this was almost terrible.worst Depp ever 2 stars
1/16/08 Kishaun Completely boring, cliched, annoying and overrated movie. 1 stars
1/14/08 Sully Loved the flick, but I don't think I'll get a hair cut this week.... 5 stars
1/14/08 Luciie i LOVED it thanks :/ 5 stars
1/04/08 Kelisha Thanks for the props on Steve. He truly is God. 4 stars
1/04/08 Catt Burton and co. did an excellent job!! Loved this artistic movie! 5 stars
12/27/07 Quigley Excellent. Burton, Depp and Carter all do amazing work; great music. Not to be missed. 5 stars
12/27/07 BestPies Sondheim is God, Burton's respect for the music is wonderful. 5 stars
12/26/07 carlos G Mostly true to the theatre version, and even Sondheim gave it his blessing! 5 stars
12/25/07 PDJ Best Movie of 2007 5 stars
12/24/07 Cindy I loved everything about this movie. I plan to see it again. 5 stars
12/23/07 Missy H. Disturbing, diabolical, yet still delicious fun! I'll take seconds, please! 5 stars
12/23/07 Ole Man Bourbon Heh I was going to say the same thing: I really liked it, didn't love it. 4 stars
12/22/07 Keystra Williams I LIKED it, but I wanted to LOVE it. 4 stars
12/22/07 Bonny I don't think the gore & violence was off-putting. Loved the movie & music. 5 stars
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  21-Dec-2007 (R)
  DVD: 01-Apr-2008



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