Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Review (-/10)
(By Paul Fischer)

Based on the 19th century legend of Sweeney Todd and the hit Broadway musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Sweeney Todd a.k.a Benjamin Barker returns to London after being sent away by Judge Turpin with the help of a sailor, Anthony Hope.

He opens a barber shop above Mrs. Lovett's Meat Pie Shop were she sells "the worst pies in London." With the help of Mrs. Lovett, Todd tries to rid of all the people who have ever done him wrong and hopes to be reunited with his daughter, Joanna, who is now Judge Turpin's ward.

There have been many cinematic incarnations of this generally morbid tale of throat-cutting barber Sweeney Todd, dating back as far as the 1930s, while Steven Sondheim's musical interpretation, largely based on the 1973 play, debuted in 1979. Now, nearly three decades later, Sondheim's darkest foray into the human psyche, meets his match in Tim Burton and the collaboration is a cinematic masterpiece.

Dark, bloody and visually alluring, Burton is the perfect director to further explore his dark side, in a film that is strikingly both cinematic and operatic. Though it is hard to tell how commercial a musical film is that is sparse on dialogue and heavy on morbidity and graphic violence, this is still a masterful work that shines above so much of pre-Oscar fare.

Apart from its shimmering artistry, this stunning film is risky at its core, and in an industry that often refuses to take risks, Burton's Sweeney Todd is a provocative, stylized and exhilarating piece of cinema that breathes new life into the movie musical: Hairspray this ain't!

Director Tim Burton has always delved into the darker aspects of our humanity, so Sweeney todd is the perfect for the iconoclastic filmmaker. Collaborating for the first time with cinematographer Dariusz Wolski and frequent Scorsese production designer Dante Ferretti, Burton's visual details here are exquisite.

As befits the film's dark tone, the film's dark, almost sepia looks exemplifies the pic's mood, and Ferretti's stylized depiction of Victorian London is perfectly realized. Sondheim's score wafts its way amidst the film's lush imagery, and Burton' uses the score to truly enhance a sense of character and narrative cohesion.

But Burton is more than just a visual artist, as he devotes as much attention to performance as visual style, and Sweeney is a collage of great acting. Of course, the heart and soul of Sweeney is Depp's masterful portrayal of the vengeful barber of Fleet Street.

Delivering an Oscar-caliber performance, Depp is powerful, hypnotic, damaged, remarkable, as he acts and sings his way into one of the most exquisitely barbarous characters of stage and screen. This is a dazzling performance by an actor who proves, time and time again, that he an actor first and movie star second, without fearing commercial failure.

Another Burton stalwart, Helena Bonham-Carter, delivers a haunting Mrs Lovett and is also remarkable in both her performance and musical renditions of the material. As villains go, they don't come better than Beadle Bamford and Judge Turpin, played by Timothy Spall and Alan Rickman respectively, both of whom are fabulous.

Add to all this is the Sondheim score that resonates throughout, and Burton's Sweeney Todd is a movie unlike any to emerge this year. In short, this is a dark, uncompromising, compelling, stunningly stylish masterwork, that is both hauntingly seductive and consistently entertaining and original. This is no doubt Burton's best film in a decade and one of the best movies of the year.

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