Sweeney Todd : The Demon Barber of Fleet Street


Not seeing the play or any other adapted versions of this film may have effected my experience. I did not know what to expect, nor was I an expert on the material adapted. If I do indeed seem ignorant to what I am comparing the performances or anything like that to, please forgive me.

Tim Burton, one of the most dark, twisted directors of any time hits gold with his rendition of Sweeney Todd : The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. With such demonic material for Burton to work with, you can only expect the best. The only thing that caught me off guard a bit was that the film was a musical. A tragic musical directed by Tim Burton? It would either be a hit or miss. Fortunately, it was definitely a hit. While his vision was constantly on track, he had a small issue in handling some of the musical numbers. Yes, they were all directed well and everyone singing had a stellar voice. It’s just Burton did not know when to quit. Some numbers went on for endless lengths and inevitably turned tedious. Yes, he was trying to keep true to the play (i think) but he should’ve had better sense with some of the songs. On another note, his idea for the atmosphere was ideal. He kept the scenery depressed and made the audience almost claustrophobic; giving them nowhere else to go and nowhere else to breathe. You were basically sucked into his imaginative world; somewhere no normal person would like to be. Some of his best work, and certainly deserving of the nomination.

Accomplished scribe John Logan adapted the material from the play of the same name. He is a two time nominee, and I’m sure Sondheim wouldn’t leave the adaptation to anyone he didn’t find fit to do the deed. While Logan doesn’t have much to work with – as it is an almost exact adaptation from the stage onto the screen (critics and other people have said this) – he still manages to keep the initial integrity of the acclaimed play. About ninety percent of the two hour running time is devoted to musical numbers. Some of them were great, a few of them were boring and annoying. Either way, it was a musical and since it is one of my least favourite genres, I couldn’t only expect so much. He threw in a bit of dark humor to add another flavor into the stew, and it worked very well. Carter, Depp and Cohen had most of the comedy – what little there was – and it worked very well. It didn’t seem out of place and it certainly helped the viewer enjoy the film much more. All in all, the film was completely dark; no brightness to be found. With a dark premise, dark execution and dark undertones, you’ll either be drawn in by such devastation or revolted by it. Hopefully it is the former. Oh and on a side note, I’ve seen the ending to the play and I much do prefer the ending in the film. They’re not too different, but the films ending has a much more morose and staggering effect on you.

Onto the amazing ensemble. Not one person was miscast, which allowed the viewer to believe the revenge ballad… at all. If actors can make the most unrealistic executions seem somewhat believable, you know they’ve done a good job.

Timothy Spall plays “Beadle Bamford“, Judge Turpin’s lackey. He comes off as an evil man. His expressions, the way he handles himself, his career position and all. But really, this man isn’t as bad as he seems. Spall fit the role perfectly, I thought. Though the role isn’t large in any way, shape or form, Spall does what he does best; transforms into character seamlessly. His chemistry with Depp and Rickman was great. He and Depp created fantastic tension. Probably the most horrific moments came between the two; in a subtle fashion. On a closing note, Spall is having an amazing year, don’t you think? The Last Hangman, Enchanted and this? What a year. Props to him, he deserves it.

Alan Rickman plays villains very well. We’ve seen this in the Harry Potter films, but never until now have we seen him be not only dark, but very, very vengeful. To some, he may come off a Snape parte deux, but he is so much more than that. He does play the antagonist, but he is not out for any sort of revenge. In fact, I’d say this film has no protagonists (other than the character Anthony). Rickman plays the character “Judge Turpin“, a cruel Judge who just doesn’t like anyone other than himself, really. Somehow Rickman manages to capture a human being throughout all of the animated personality. The only problem was the screenplay didn’t know what to do with the character. One moment, they make him a naive, caring man. The next, a vengeful, coarse demon. I guess it made the story more interesting, but Rickman’s performance reflected upon this perfectly. In a nutshell, his transformations back and forth were excellent, making his performance grand.

Sacha Baron Cohen, one of the funniest men to burst onto the scene in recent memory. One of the main reasons I saw this film was for him. He plays “Pirelli“, ‘the best shave in town’. He manages to make this film seem lighter and happier for his entire time on screen. Even when he is evil, his comedic presence is always there. He goes through a change, so to speak. One that devastates the audience. Cohen – as you know – is a chameleon. He can transform into character most magnificently. I only expected the best from him here. To my pleasure, he handled the dark material as well as anyone else in the film; completely stealing the show from Depp (for his small amount of time). Cohen also nailed his Italian accent. He was pitch perfect with his body language and in his vocal language as well. His voice was better than Depp’s, and considering Cohen had to do his numbers with a thick accent, he deserves the praises he’s getting.

Helena Bonham Carter plays “Mrs. Lovett“, a twisted, loveless pie maker. Her character comes off as two dimensional, but as the film progresses, her character becomes three dimensional. Add onto that Carter’s wonderful interpretation of the role, and you’ve got a great performance. Her voice was the most stunning of the film, in my opinion. She carried tunes perfectly and is certainly deserving of the love she is getting. Her character doesn’t go through many changes, but nearing the end of the film she has an amazing scene that really gives her that little push into greatness. She’s not nomination worthy, but I think many people will contradict that opinion soon enough. If you want a vague comparison of this performance, look no further than Carter’s performance in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Basically that role, in a leading role… and a bit less sadistic.

Onto the honcho of the film, Johnny Depp. He plays “Sweeney Todd“, a man formerly known as “Benjamin Barker“. The transformation of his persona – inevitably ending in a name change – was because his wife was captured by the ruthless Judge Turpin. If you did not know this, why are you reading my review? That’s the whole premise. Anyways, his character is beyond psychotic, and he makes sure everything he does only brings him closer to his revenge. No gallivanting around for Mr. Todd, only revenge. That’s basically all the character is, so there isn’t much for Depp to work with, outside of the one dimension he is given. Well, Depp has had less to work with and has delivered a lot, so what do you expect Depp did with this role? He played the psycho as well as anyone else could’ve – if not better. He brought darkness and torment to the role unlike he ever has. He also had a great, dreary voice to coincide with the performance, which helped love him more. Unfortunately, he only had one characteristic to work with. All in all, a real ‘Depp’ performance. Definitely, deserving of a nomination.

This was one of the most technical films of the year. Everything – and I mean everything – was greatly executed, technically.

I’ll begin with the music. Although none is original, a lot of the music was amazing. Sondheim’s lyrics and compositions are some of the most well written and haunting you’ll hear this year. Though I felt some of the songs ran on too long and got tiresome, for the most part they were very enjoyable. As for the score… wow. It fit Burton’s vision perfectly, and had a ‘Burton’ film feel to it. It’s just odd how well Sondheim’s play and Tim Burton’s vision got along.

The sound editing and mixing were quite good as well. As a musical, you expect this aspect to be top notch, but at times it felt a little too much. The sound team didn’t do a good enough job editing out some backwash, because I got headaches during some of the songs. Other than this, it worked very well, especially the mixing. A great deal of suspense was brought mainly due to the sound team knowing when to throw in tense music. Some great work, some average work. All in all, fine stuff.

The film editing was good, but could’ve been better. As I stated in my first paragraph, some of the scenes seemed too long for their own good. Other than that the transitions and quick, short, effective scene compilations. Very good stuff, but the editing could’ve been so much better.

The makeup was wonderful. Quite a bit of the ‘evil’ vibe was brought on due to the very effective makeup; especially with Depp. The characters of Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett would not have been the same without the pale, lifeless skin tone complexion. Also, the hair was very well done. Bright hair for the innocent, dark hair for the guilty. If you didn’t catch this, watch the final scene again, and you’ll get what I’m getting at.

The costume design and art direction are basically one in the same here. Alike above, the film would not have been the same without these dark techs. The costumes ranged from stunning, bright silk dress suits, to tattered, torn, dirty t-shirts. Same goes for the art decoration. The interiors were mainly decrepit and tarnished; bringing a more horrid vibe to the film. Basically, all the technical aspects helped benefit the overall creepiness of the film.

Onto the best tech of the film. This was by far the cinematography. Dariusz Wolski’s work on this film is his best ever. Having already hit gold with Pirates of the Caribbean : At World’s End, he continues his fantastic work with this film that needed top notch atmosphere. Without the right photography the film would’ve been horrible. Wolski’s work was amazing. From amazing tracking shots to fabulous atmosphere, there was nothing this man couldn’t do. Even when the film required a bright scene, he nailed the warmth of it. Some really amazing stuff here, and if not for the competition, he’d be my win, easily.

Nominations for Sweeney Todd : The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Best Director – Tim Burton (#2)
Best Ensemble Cast – (#1!)
Best Cinematography – (#3)
Best Art Direction – (#4)
Best Makeup – (#2)

Rating : 8.5/10


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