Sweeney Todd — The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is, hands down, the finest picture of the year.
Now, I’m not a Tim Burton freak or anything; it seems mostly coincidence that Ed Wood is among my top ten favorite pieces of cinema. But after you’ve sat through overblown atrocities like Sleepy Hollow, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, Big Fish and Planet of the Apes, I don’t believe the case for unmitigated genius can convincingly be made. Still, Burton’s cinematic vision is unique, and, when the stars properly align (and I don’t just mean Johnny Depp), he can deliver a hell of a movie.
Put Sweeney at the top of the shortlist of Tim Burton masterpieces.
Everything about it is note-perfect, from the harmonic complexity and dizzying counterpoint of the Stephen Sondheim score to the — ahem — go-for-the-throat performances. The set pieces are finely-detailed and thankfully lacking in computer-generated gratuitousness. Burton’s Victorian London is realistically gritty, and the stark and desperate people that fill its alleys and thoroughfares are well depicted. There’s a great deal of singing, but Oliver! this ain’t.
Pretty-boy Depp is finally showing something of his age, and it suits him. Despite what the previews suggest, this film is probably about 90 percent sung, and Depp rises to the occasion admirably. His voice (which holds a hint of David Bowie) is actually quite nice. But the best part about his performance is the barely-suppressed rage he brings to this morbid little tale of vengeance. This isn’t Depp on autopilot, as we’ve seen far too often recently. He commits to the part of Sweeney with a pitched severity that climaxes in an orgy of carnage that out-spurts any Saw sequel.
I have a soft spot for Helena Bonham Carter, and it’s refreshing to see her transcend the gothcentricity she’s typically employed to flaunt. It is there, make no mistake about it — raccoon eyes, Bride of Frankenstein hair. . . But the elegant pathos she brings to Mrs. Lovett‘s homicidal opportunism adds sincerity to what might have otherwise been a baroque cartoon. Plus she’s got some of the *funniest* lines in the whole show.
Sascha Baron Cohen is pretty entertaining, too.
I suppose if you’re a Sondheim purist, you might find some fault with the film, mainly in the condensing necessary to go from stage to screen. But believe me when I tell you, not a drop of blood (and there is a lot) is wasted.
I wasn’t sure Burton had the stomach to go as far as this film does, but I was happily mistaken. Macabre and disturbing, Sweeney Todd cuts as sharp and quick as the barber’s bloody blade. It’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to see a film more than once while it’s still in theaters, but I definitely plan on another viewing before it joins my DVD collection.
PS: Brooke and I strolled right past George Tenet on the way to the cinema. We were walking down the wrong side of the street, past fenced-off construction with cars whizzing by. George shuffled past in the opposite direction, against traffic. He looked slightly troubled and sad, which is why neither of us had the heart to yell "slam dunk!"