Wednesday, January 16, 2008

SWEENEY TODD: It's Johnny Razorhands

SWEENEY TODD: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street (musical)

Cast: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter (pic), Alan Rickman, Sacha Baron Cohen & Timothy Spall
Director: Tim Burton
Time: 115 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? Johnny Depp goes from Edward Scissorhands to 'Sweeney Razorhands' in Tim Burton's dark and dank adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's musical about the notorious Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The role requires Depp to sing and he rises to the occasion with his harsh and husky voice that helps to make us empathise with his character, despite him being a mass murderer bent on giving his clients 'the closest shave'.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The opening credits, with generous sprays of blood on the screen, give us an idea of what we are in for from Burton's bloodiest production yet, and the opening song, 'No Place Like London' indicates that we are not to expect the usual tour of London's West End theatres. Indeed, this may be the most macabre and goriest musical we have ever seen...

A voiceover narrates the background of the Demon Barber: Benjamin Barker (Depp) leads a happy life with his beautiful wife and baby daughter. An envious and vile Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), who has lustful designs on Barker's wife (Laura Michelle Kelly), sends Barker to jail in Australia on trumped up charges. Years later, upon his release, Barker returns to London as Sweeney Todd and learns that his wife is dead and his daughter Johanna (Jayne Wisener) is Turpin's ward.Sweeney swears revenge. Teaming up with Mrs Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), he opens his barbershop on the floor above Lovett's meat pie deli - and provides what we may call a highly successful co-operative business supplying the main ingredients for her pies.
The subplots deal mainly with children, often seen as the main victims of squalid London during the days of Industralisation. One involves Anthony Hope (Jamie Campbell Bower), Sweeney's young shipmate who happens to fall in love with Johanna and plans to run away with her. The other is Toby (Ed Sanders), the assistant of showman barber Adolfo Pirelli (Sacha Baron Cohen) who becomes the first 'client' of Sweeney Todd. When Toby is hired by Lovett as her errand boy, he becomes a potential witness to the mass murders and crimes of cannibalism.

HITS & MISSES: Original composed for the stage, Sondheim's songs are not the catchy types like those of "Chicago" or "Dream Girls". You won't walk away humming the tunes, but they have an inherent grisliness and a whimsical wit that sometimes border on comedy. The crowd-pleasing number, 'The Ballad Of Sweeney Todd', has been pared away by Burton, probably to maintain the diabolical coherence of the movie which moves at a rather fast pace (even for a two-hour film).

The cast is remarkable. Throughout the movie, we never stop caring for Depp's character or Bonham Carter's. As the 'practical' Nellie Lovett, her view is that Sweeney's victims "will never be missed". Alas, Bonham Carter is no Sarah Brightman and her songs are there to lend meaning rather than melody. Rickman gives a well-balance performance as the deceitful judge, supported with oomph by Timothy Spall as his assistant, Beady Bamford. If there is a casting flaw, it may be that of Miss Wisener who appears more of a wallflower than an excited girl in love

THE LOWDOWN: The legend of Sweeney Todd is a fable about world where one has to take justice into one's own hands. There had been many movie renditions of the legend, the more recent being the 2006 BBC production starring Ray Winstone. However, even having watched that gruesome film, there are still many surprises and twists in Burton's musical. After all, Burton has always been known for dishing out 'perverse fun', only that he is now doing it to music.


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