Sunday, December 09, 2007

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

This morning I screened Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.

The story, based on the popular musical, follows barber Benjamin Barker on his journey from happy family man to vicious killer. But there's more to it than that.

Without sounding like a complete cinelitist, many people will probably see and dismiss this movie as nothing more than a typical Burtonesque display of cool effects and crazy makeup. And that's a shame—because if they dig deeper and focus not only on the visual rewards, but the heart of the characters, they'll see a more profound film.

As usual, Johnny Depp (Barker) is brilliant as the main character, wearing more expressions on his powder-pale face than any other man could possibly muster. He is darling as a charming husband and father, then equally as effective as a violent monster. Alan Rickman is also notably good as his rival, Judge Turpin. Rounding out the main cast is the always-convincingly-creepy Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett, a terrible pie maker who falls in love with Todd and becomes his key accomplice in murder.

If we unveil the allegory, we are left with this: terrible, unforgivable things happen to a good, decent person, robbing him of his faith in all of mankind. As a result, he retreats to a place so dark that he loses every trace of the person he once was, allowing negativity to thrive in its absence. That darkness arrives in the form of a typical jealous woman who will go to great lengths to conceal truth and protect her own interests. Only when it's too late will he realize that she has betrayed him and that he could've regained all that he lost—had be been open to just behavior.

Of course, because it's Burton, this is all masked in dark eyeliner and Einstein hair, but the core of the message remains clear. And it is delivered in a charming, if not slapstick, bloody way.

Were it not for the distractions like Sacha Baron Cohen (as a cartoonish con artist) and a wimpy sailor (Jamie Campbell Bower), this would've been practically flawless.

But then again, no one can be expected to make two Edward Scissorhands in one career. Even with the same genius actor.

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