Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen. Rated R.
years after his blood-soaked debut as one of
Freddy Krueger’s first victims, Johnny Depp has come full-circle as a gentle
barber turned diabolical serial killer. His pale, bloodless face twisted into a
vicious scowl, his hair as wildly unkempt as Edward Scissorhands’ but with a
brilliant white streak, he gracefully navigates the darkest corners of London
like a ghost, a man consumed by his obsessive and mostly joyless quest for
Faithfully adapted from Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 musical, Tim
Burton’s Sweeney Todd is pleasantly
perverse and visually arresting, a bold slice of Grand Guignol that embraces
the macabre without trying to drown us in oceans of blood. In many ways, it is
no different than Burton’s darkest animated fantasies – A Nightmare
Before Christmas and The Corpse
Bride – brought vividly to life. Here,
London is less a backdrop than a supporting player whose presence is
inescapable, its decaying buildings caked in soot, its skies awash with thick
clouds of dark smoke. It is a sinister vision in gloom.
Not that Todd would see it otherwise.
Born Benjamin Barker,
he makes no secret of his disdain for the city where he once made his home with
his beautiful wife (Laura Michelle Kelly) and infant child, before being
wrongly imprisoned. By the time he returns, driven by a furious need to punish
the reptilian judge who stole his freedom and his life, he is a changed man,
not just in name but in temperament. He is cold, unforgiving and hungry for
blood, regardless of the source.
In Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) he finds something
close to a kindred spirit. A widowed baker who dreams of filling the loveless
void in Todd’s life, she gleefully assists him, grinding his pounds of exacted
flesh into meat pies and selling them to the unsuspecting public. It’s a
ghoulish plan, perfectly fitting in the twisted world of Sweeney
Todd, but it does nothing to satisfy its anti-hero’s
bloodlust, which is teased to the boiling point by an early, ill-fated
encounter with Judge Turpin.
Alan Rickman, who guaranteed himself a lifetime of
villainous turns after starring as a black-hearted terrorist in Die
Hard, infuses Turpin with an almost palpable menace,
providing Todd with a worthy foil. But the movie belongs to Depp and Bonham
Carter, who dance slowly and seductively against the backdrop of Burton’s
London until it’s time to paint the town red.
While their singing may fall short of Broadway
Depp is more passionate than tuneful, while Bonham Carter’s vocals seem thinner
than her pies – both inhabit their roles with exuberance, making their
resounding refrain (“They all deserve to die!”) a chilling threat and a liberating
call to arms. Depp’s morbidly pale visage and tonsorial artistry are sure to
invite comparisons with Scissorhands, his character in an earlier Burton
production, but there is one major difference: Edward Scissorhands spends his
life learning how not to hurt people, while Sweeney Todd can’t wait to start.