Screens » Screens Etc.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street



For one Twilight Zone moment there, I thought I had walked into the wrong Johnny Depp movie. What would you think? Depp, a ship, and Keira Knightley — or an androgynous young lad who could pass for Keira Knightley, particularly when blurred (one whose primary refrain is one of the loveliest, New-Ageyist lines of last year’s film catalogue).

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the movie, is different than Sweeney Todd, the Broadway musical, but Master Sondheim himself explains that in a recent New York Times article far better than I, so use the internet (yep, the one with email). Bottom line: This thing is indeed a musical, featuring the Tim Burton repertory players.

Depp is the titular barber — the erstwhile Benjamin Barker — who has returned to London after a long absence to exact revenge on the rapacious and pedophilic Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), who jailed Mr. Barker, publicly ravaged the missus and left her to ruin, then adopted her daughter as his ward, whom he presently intends to wed. Whew.

Enter gothic-Raggedy-Ann-doll Helena Bonham Carter, er, Mrs. Lovett: cat-pie baker and admirer of the closest, fastest shave-profferer this side of the Thames. They come upon their mutually beneficial partnership after a murder of necessity, and whaddaya know: It turns out the “worst pies in London” were only lacking a hint of homo sapien.

My beef with Sweeney, which is inarguably a good movie, is with the photography (and, to an extent, the editing). Early on the shots consist of: And here’s Mr. Depp from the front. And here he is now from the back. Front. Back. Front. Back. Are we getting the hair? Front. Back. The closeups of characters’ heads during songs are awfully disconcerting. The singing, though, is not. Everyone is gushing about Depp’s throaty croon, but I could listen to Bonham Carter’s “Poor Thing” all day.

As rival barber Pirelli, Sacha Baron Cohen turns in a delightful performance, but more interesting: Just see if you can’t, from a few overt allusions in the film, guess which tested story Mr. Burton will be appropriating next.

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