Sweeney Todd, by Tim Burton

Was Benjamin Barker, alias Sweeny Todd, alias the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a historical character, or is this grim story an urban legend? After seeing this film, I could not care less. First I want to say that I admire much of Tim Burton’s work. TheNightmare Before Christmas is one of my favorite movies, and I also greatlyenjoyed Big Fish.

Sweeney ToddThe plot here is very simple. After spending years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit, Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) returns to London to find his charming, lovely, blonde wife dead and his no less charming, lovely, blonde daughter in the hands of the corrupt and utterly depraved Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman.) Under the new identity of Sweeney Todd, Barker launches with one Mrs. Lovett (Elena Bonham Carter) a business venture that combines barbering, serial killing and an early and extremely unappetizing version of fast food.

Sweeney Todd gives gore an industrial touch. Slash throat, blood gushing, body down the chute, brains splattering on the basement floor. Repeated many, many times. The cringe factor is unbearable. Yet, in spite of the shock of the images, the film soon becomes boring.But (spoiler alert here) it has a surprise in store: at the very end, you get to see a woman burning alive in an oven. At length. Don’t make any dinner plans after watching this.

The test of any film noir worth its salt isa great villain. Here, Judge Turpin seems to have been cobbled together from a dozen bad guys inmutually unrelated stories. Turpin has every known vice this side of Hell, but, in spite of Alan Rickman’s talent, he has no weight as a character. He too is boring.

Sweeney Todd received numerous awards: Golden Globes for Best Picture in the Musical /Comedy category and for JohnnyDepp’s performance. In all fairness, it was a difficult part to play and sing without sinking into ridicule, and Mr. Depp does manage that feat.

The film also won an Academy Award for art direction. I didn’t quite follow the Academy on this one. What usually makes TimBurton’s work outstanding is his highly original visual style. Sweeney Todd failsin this regard. Its foggy, damp, dark London is no different from that of hundreds of Sherlock Holmes/Dickens/Jack the Ripper film or television adaptations. Generic, and visually boring too.

And the music, because this is after all a musical? I guess it was not bad, or it would have made an impression on me, along with the rest.

I was forgetting to mention a cameo appearance by Sacha Baron Cohen, of Borat fame. Treasure every moment of it, because this is the only bright spot in the film. Or better still, stay away from that barber shop.

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