the fresh films reviews

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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Tim Burton
Sweeney Todd - demonbarbereren fra Fleet Street
116 minutes
John Logan
Laurie MacDonald
Walter F. Parkes
Richard D. Zanuck
Screenwriter (based on the play and musical by Christopher Bond, Stephen Sondheim and Hugo Wheeler):
John Logan

Cast includes:

Sweeney Todd Johnny Depp
Mrs. Lovett Helena Bonham Carter
Judge Turpin Alan Rickman
Beadle Bamford Timothy Spall
Signor Adolfo Pirelli Sacha Baron Cohen
Anthony Hope Jamie Campbell Bower
Beggar Woman Laura Michelle Kelly
Johanna Jayne Wisener
Toby Ed Sanders



The Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaborations should be familiar by now. This one is the sixth in line, and it bears resemblance to many of the others. Stylistically, both Burton and Depp retain their theatrical influence, with Depp's puppetry mannerisms and Burton's dense but crisp colour palette and distorted proportions coming to life. None of this comes as a surprise when the story of Sweeney Todd, the stage musical which is based on an English legend, is finally brought to the screen after twenty odd years of planning. But what is a surprise, is that Burton and Depp are able to recreate the magical tone they haven't quite been able to emulate since Edward Scissorhands.

The secret lies in combining the sweet and innocent with the macabre in a delicate and intricate way. In many ways, the story is reminiscent of the early works of Peter Gabriel (especially "Harold the Barrel", and other texts from Nursery Cryme) in the way the stiff and formal ways of British etiquette is linked to the tragic outcomes of unfulfilled romance and oppressed love - all conducted with a rather distinct feel of glee on behalf of the storyteller. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter captures this effect brilliantly, because they are both so apt at portraying quirky and unnatural characters while still being able to convey their sensitiveness.

As a musical, Sweeney Todd does something that in my book is crucial in this genre: it manages to incorporate the musical numbers smoothly into both the narrative and the dialogue - sometimes even overlapping with the latter. As such, the singing never comes off as abruptions, but simply as a continuation of the story, and a delicate one at that. Check out Dreamgirls before you watch this one, and you will see what I mean. Burton's achievement in this department gives the film class and consolidates the timeless nature of the work.

In contrast to other recent musicals, the orchestral arrangements in Sweeney Todd are toned down to give more resonance to the vocals. This is another fine choice by Burton, because it evokes both the frailty and the strength of the characters. The singing in here is beautiful, especially from Depp, Sanders and Bower (the latter actually looks like the before-mentioned young Gabriel), and the lyrics combine great puns with the touching aspects of any good tragedy. For the first time in a while with the Burton/Depp collaborations, Depp's character doesn't become too dominant, but instead fits in perfectly in a moving and fascinating story.

Copyright 23.2.2008 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang