Movie Reviews
11:08 am
Fri December 14, 2007

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Burton does better than anyone else . . .

"At last, my arm is complete again." Sweeney Todd as he admires one of his efficient razors after a long absence.

I'm not sure Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd is "grand," but I'm confident it's in the best Grand Guignol tradition of sensational stage horror given its name from that little theater in early 20th century Paris that specialized in sensationally ghoulish productions. I am also sure that no one in film is better able to play the titular butcher than the shape-shifting, ever-naughty Johnny Depp.

The opening song "No Place Like London" hints to Anglophiles like me that it won't be my usual tour of West End theaters, rather a seedy, dangerous place where Mac the Knife would be more at home. Throughout the musical, Steven Sondheim's lyrics expressively revel in the amoral, throat-slicing world that Sweeney and his adoring meatpie lady, Nellie Lovett (Helena Bonham-Carter), wallow in as he prepares to take revenge on the equally amoral Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), who dispatched Todd to prison early on to get his beautiful young wife. Hence Sweeney's revenge inclination.

Sweeney's lyric best expresses the wildly murderous world, hardly the usual province of musicals:

"Alright! You, Sir?/No one's in the chair come on, come on/Sweeney's waiting/I want you bleeders./You sir! Too sir?/Welcome to the grave./I will have vengeance./I will have salvation . . . ."

Yes, it's Sleepy-Hollow, Corpse-Bride Tim Burton's movie with blood spouting like red paint from a pressure gun contrasting the somber, almost black and white underside of London. When one of the children bites into a pie with a finger in it (shades of our contemporary law suits!), the audience doesn't even gasp, given the omnipresence of bloody bodies.

There is no more interesting musical this year, even considering the enchanting Once. In the end, it is unsettling, unsavory, and unusual. Burton does better than anyone else in juxtaposing horror with innocence.