I’m not a big fan of Tim Burton movies, so when I heard he was helming a silver screen adaptation of Sweeney Todd, I was a bit skeptical about how the final product would turn out. But then the reviews came rolling in, with an overwhelming majority of them being on the positive side, and nominations for major awards soon followed. Fan reaction was also generally enthusiastic, so I figured this film would probably be a safe bet — and I was right! I ended up enjoying Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street far more than I expected.
Plot Summary (with possible spoilers): Benjamin Barker (played by Johnny Depp) lived an idyllic life in London with his wife Lucy and baby daughter Johanna until he was falsely accused of a crime by the evil Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman). Turpin sentenced Barker to a life of hard labor, and then promptly tried to move in on Lucy and Johanna. When Lucy refused him, he raped her, after which she took poison in order to put an end to her misery. Turpin took Johanna in as a ward, keeping her locked in a room to prevent her from interacting with anyone else.
Fifteen years later, Barker escaped from the penal colony and returned to London via ship with a new identity (not to mention crazy hair and ghastly makeup): Sweeney Todd. As Todd, he returns to the place where he once had his barber shop to inquire about his family. Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), a widow who sells meat pies in a bakery below the barber shop, tells Todd what has happened to his family, thereby setting the man of revenge that won’t end until he kills Judge Turpin.
Mrs. Lovett helps Todd formulate a plan to get to the judge. They’ll reopen his barber shop, establish Todd’s reputation as the best barber in London, and then lure the judge in for a shave, at which point Todd can exact his revenge.
Things looked like they were going to work out — until a quack named Pirelli (Sacha Baron Cohen) recognizes Todd as Barker and threatens to reveal the truth unless Todd pays him off. Instead of giving into the blackmail, Todd simply slits Pirell’s throat, an act that unleashes the bloodthirsty beast lurking just beneath the surface.
From there, the film shows Todd turn into a full-blown serial killer, offing unsuspecting victims left and right while Mrs. Lovett helps him dispose of the bodies by baking them up in her meat pies and selling them to the general public. The two wreak havoc on London until young Toby (Ed Sanders), Pirelli’s former assistant, discovers what’s going on and takes matters into his own hands.
My Reaction: I thought Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was an excellent film! I don’t usually like modern musicals (neither Chicago nor Moulin Rouge! did anything for me), but this one was terrific. I’d never seen any rendition of Sweeney Todd before, and was only vaguely familiar with the storyline, so I didn’t have any preconceptions when I went in.
Depp was excellent as the title character; his Oscar nomination was certainly well-deserved. Who knew that he could sing so well?! I’ve said several times before that I’ve never been much of a Depp fan, but I’ve definitely come around now. He’s a wonderful actor!
I liked the fact that Burton kept the running time down under two hours because the film ended up moving along at a great pace. There were very few boring parts (which is unusual for a musical), and the story held my attention throughout. I’ve read that some of the songs were revised for this film version and others left out altogether, which apparently angered numerous die-hard Sweeney Todd fans. But as I said, this was my first encounter with the musical, so I wasn’t affected by the changes at all.
On the whole, I was surprised at how good Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was. It exceed all of the high expectations I had, so I give the film 4 stars out of 5. I recommend seeing it, even if you don’t usually watch musicals!