Tim Burton spits out another classic
I could start by stating the obvious, that taking these roles was daring (and as the Golden Globes proved, ultimately rewarding) for Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, but I’ll bypass that trite sentiment and move directly on to the bulk of the story.
Here’s what you should know. Johnny Depp plays Benjamin Barker (now calling himself Sweeney Todd), a once distinguished London barber who is convicted of a fabricated crime by the evil Judge Turpin (played by Alan Rickman) and sent into exile. A hardened and aged Sweeney Todd returns years later in Barker’s place. Upon his return he finds out jealously was the cause of his conviction, Judge Turpin publicly humiliated and shamed his wife, and now the judge has custody over Todd’s daughter.
Sweeney Todd challenges the great barber and hair tonic salesman Signor Pirelli (Sacha Baron Cohen) to a shave-off, as it were. Todd wins the challenge and piques the interest of all the city’s men. Now his plan for revenge is set in motion and is executed brutally. He sets up shop on top of Mrs. Lovett’s meat-pie shop who, with Sweeney Todd’s new secret recipe (hint: people), she goes from making the worst pies in London to the best! It is a time for praise and celebration…except for that whole vengeful murder thing.
When I saw this film people were walking out left and right because they missed the news about this being a musical – or maybe it was just the voices singing that caused them such discomfort. I’m kidding. Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp are not singers, don’t be fooled into thinking they are. They sing from their heads and throats and they lack the vocal explosiveness needed for a Broadway musical, which is why they are in the film adaptation. All things considered, they certainly aren’t bad singers. Their respective lack of vocal talent actually brings a touch of humanity to the story and creates characters that are easy to connect and sympathize with (even though all of them are purely evil).
Tim Burton creates a dark, dreary, London that lacks compassion and any sense of righteousness. “Sweeney Todd”-’s London is completely without any redeeming qualities—a great black pit and the vermin of the world inhabit it. Only twice does the city appear to be a happy place, once during a flashback of the young Benjamin Barker and his family before Judge Turpin’s act of malevolence and again in a fantasy sequence illustrating Mrs. Lovett’s own desires for her and Sweeny Todd’s future together as partners. What is interesting is the thought that this London may not be horrible, but rather is shown to the audience through Sweeney’s own perverted interpretation of the city. It is a place that has brought him so much grief and heartache that the city manifests itself to him as such. In one number a young character disagrees with London being as Mr. Todd sees it and Sweeney’s response is, “you are young/ life has been kind to you/ you will learn.”
This story is ostensibly a story of revenge and jealously. Judge Turpin ruins Benjamin Barker’s life out of jealousy and Mrs. Lovett hides a huge secret from Sweeney Todd for the same reason. What lays deeper is a story of corruptible power and authority. Sweeney Todd manipulates his power over those in his barber’s chair, Mrs. Lovett uses her power over Sweeney Todd and Tobias for her own wicked purposes, and Judge Turpin uses his state-granted power to do very nasty things to many different people, which is directly responsible for every thing that happens in the story. Although unintentional, it is surely a poignant statement for our time, and it would be shame to miss this film.