Bloody musical fails to make the cut
Tim Burton’s latest is nothing short of what we have come to expect. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street takes viewers back with nightmarish scenes of gore as well as a wicked humorous twist that few could get away with. Keeping in mind the peculiar director’s affinity for all things morbid and bizarre, the decision to bring the ever-evolving musical to the silver screen (again) suddenly seems like the most natural thing in the world.
Set in grim London, an old judge rips a young, successful barber from his wife and baby daughter for some arbitrary crime and sends him away to contemplate what he has done. While the respectable Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) takes the daughter as his ward and eventually plans to wed his wife, the unfortunate barber, Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp), marinates in hatred and adopts the name Sweeney Todd.
When he returns to London after some 15 years, he is soaked in rage and thoroughly vindictive. With the help of Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), the proud baker of the worst meat pies in London, it isn’t long before he returns to Fleet Street and sets up shop again. This time, however, he has no intentions of cutting any hair – only malevolent necks.
In no time at all, the barber is well on his way to quenching his thirst for blood, and Mrs. Lovett’s pies become the talk of the town. Sadly, it is no coincidence; the woman boasts some depraved ingenuity. Thoroughly Dickensian and excessively macabre, there can be only one bloody end.
Oddly enough, anything that could be construed as a red flag in any other film seems to fly in Sweeney. First of all, it’s a musical. Most can probably take it or leave it under normal circumstances, but the fact that the story is so far-fetched and so gruesome makes the whole musical aspect welcome and somehow grounding. The fact that it’s a Tim Burton musical really turns the notion of an upbeat fairy tale on its head, and in the end contrasts with just about everything for which musicals stand. But it works.
The million-dollar question, of course, has always been whether Depp can carry a tune. Turns out he can sing just about as well as anyone else – like most viewers honestly paid their two bits to hear Captain Jack croon. It is mostly a visual experience, after all.
That potentially interesting subplots are set up but never pursued leaves the audience feeling like they want more. It turns out, though, that this abandonment of parallel events happens to play up the obsessive and demented nature of Todd’s one-track mind, hell-bent on vengeance. The barber’s pursuit of the judge may end in much bloodshed, but ultimately yields no comfort as this same narrow-mindedness prevents him from truly reclaiming the life from which he was taken so many years before.
While certainly a visual treat and definitely a refreshing combination of horror and hilarity, the sum of its parts fail to add up, and Sweeney Todd falls just short of leaving its viewers with a song in their hearts and a slash across their throats.