Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Directed by Tim Burton, Screenplay by John Logan
2007, USA/UK, Rated R
Recently, I had the opportunity to see Tim Burton’s new film “Sweeney Todd.” I would first like to mention the positive qualities of the film, not wishing to dampen your opinions too early. The overall look of the film is classic Burton from top to bottom, the distinctive deep contrasts and Gothic tones. The musical-turned-movie was quite ripe for Burton’s flare for the macabre.
Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd) was, as always, a perfect match for his character. His slow tones and serious psychopathic portrayed in the film were enjoyable to watch. Depp fans would not be disappointed.
Those that have seen the musical, or have a penchant for musicals will find Sweeny Todd an enjoyable night out. It laid heavily on the musicals flow, and was a true musical on film. Alan Rickman played the role of the cruel judge Turpin even though his time on screen was limited.
Well, now that that is done, I have a few problems with the film; the first of which is wanting my money back. While the acting and directing was a plus overall, no manner of skill could have saved this script. The film starts out with Sweeney on board a ship running through the thymes. A few vague references to being “picked-up,” lead us to believe he was adrift; but from where? Did he escape? We are introduced to a sailor Anthony Hope, who helped Todd, but how? Who he is and why he is in the movie is not clear.
A quick flash-back sequence comes with the song, where we see Sweeney as a young family man. Here we see his arrest, and are introduced to Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman). However almost nothing else vital to the moving of a plot is given. The back story is wooden and leaves so little on the bone, in way of information, there is hardly enough meat to even gives the antagonist and protagonist reason enough to fight. From here on out, we go from song to song, and find little in the way of rational plot movement. In fact, I found the plot as interesting as watching Bob Ross painting, eerily numbing, but in the end you’re not sure why you watched.
In a nut shell; 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 (Jamie Campbell Bower). He opens a barber shop above Mrs. Lovett’s Meat Pie Shop where she sells ‘the worst pies in London.’ With the help of Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), a pie shop owner who had known Sweeney and his family all of those years ago, Todd goes on a gory indiscriminate rampage; while waiting for his moment to give Turpin a shave and hopes to be reunited with his daughter; Joanna (Jayne Wisener), who is now Judge Turpin’s ward. The ending I found anti-climatic, and a twist that came from left field missed its mark.
Who the sailor is or why he feel in love with Todd’s daughter is never made clear; one can only assume “love at first sight,” how contrived. There just is not enough motivation for the characters to be doing what they do. We are thrust into a story with no real structure or purpose. Why does Todd kill indiscriminately? What happened to him all those years? Why did Turpin so quickly change Todd’s life? There is even introduction of characters that have no point at all; like the rival barber Signor Adolfo Pirelli (Sacha Baron Cohen from “Borat”). For those hoping that Cohen’s comic styling is used effectively, I am unhappy to report it is not used at all.
The musicale was clearly the bases for the script, and it really felt like I was just watching a filmed show. The songs were not enthusiastic or moving, they overused overlapped singing; making it hard to follow and left huge plot holes at the conclusion. If the singing or score were better I may think differently, but they left far too much to be desired.
In the end, the film would have been better if someone made a movie based on the story, instead of a Broadway show on a big screen; and not a good one at that. From film like The Corpse Bride, we know Depp has the vocal range, but no amount of range could save this lamentable score.
In my opinion, wait for NetFlix.