Sunday, January 13, 2008

Movies: Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street


I was a drama geek in high school, and it was during this time that I became well acquainted with the work of Stephen Sondheim, a Broadway composer and lyricist. Sondheim's music typically has a sing-songy, syncopated feel, and the memory of Bernadette Peters belting out words almost as fast as she could breathe in the musical "Into the Woods" still endures in my mind. Now, Sondheim's work has been adapted into a movie by Tim Burton - "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."

The film, like the musical, is a tale of revenge and madness. Todd (played by Tim Burton's muse, Johnny Depp), a barber who has been in exile for 15 years, returns to avenge not only his dead wife and captive child but himself. I'll leave the particulars to be discovered, but it's safe to say that most people will be entertained by the dark, tragic plot and the Giallo-like amounts of blood that eventually flow on the screen. That's not to say it's not a predictable story, but Sondheim's music and Burton's imagery keep the film approachable.

At once, the movie doesn't shy away from the fact that it's a musical - the opening scenes of a dreary, suitably Tim Burton-y London are indeed rich, but they never overpower the score or the libretto. Depp and Helena Bonham Carter (who plays his nominal partner in crime), while obviously not Broadway-trained singers, do a decent job. The only real problem is the one all film musicals face - it's very difficult to act and sing at the same time, so the story does sometimes feel like a Disney-esque caricature of itself.

Rating: 8/10

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