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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

  • 2009
  • R
  • 116min
  • 86%
  • 7.4 / 10

Falsely convicted and banished for a crime he did not commit 15 years prior, Sweeney Todd returns to his barber shop in London called the Fleet Street to exact revenge on the corrupt Judge Turpin, who lusts for his wife, Mrs. Lovett. Todd uses his razor to slit the throats of his customers and transports their bodies to his wife, who uses them in her meat-pie shop. He determined not to stop at anything until he kills Turpin.

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Stephen Sondheim, known for his adamance about musical films, long opposed the idea of turning Sweeney Todd into a film. However, he finally yielded when Tim Burton took an interest in making one. The composer and lyricist was awestruck at Burton’s artistic visions and allowed the director to helm the project on the condition that he would still have authority over casting. Burton was sold on the idea but insisted that Johnny Depp would lead the cast. Initially, Depp’s vocals did not sit well with Sondheim, who found it too rock-oriented but finally budged after his audition.

In casting Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett, the actress had to send Sondheim tapes showcasing her vocal prowess to prove that the singer-actress was a perfect fit for the part regardless of her then-romantic relationship with Burton. Impressed and confident about the actress, Sondheim immediately hired Carter.

Indeed, the film turned out to be a magnificent one for Sondheim. The writer-musician, in his autobiography called Finishing the Hat, admitted that Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was the only film adaptation that met his standards and pleased his palate.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street movie review

Tim Burton takes the boundaries of what is conventional in film making, explores it then expands it in a way that only he can in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Even amongst the number of bleak films in Burton's filmography, Sweeney Todd is - by a large margin - the darkest.
This is due to the film's source material, the 1979 musical written by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler. The film's screenwriter, John Logan, should also be credited for rending both the grand and subtle moments of the film with equally compelling dimensions.

Burton creates a dimension of his own where everything seems plausible. In the film, London turns a blind eye to the increasing body count, much less to the corruption that taunts the city. It is what filmmakers like Burton understand. It is authenticity that makes a film look and feel real, not realism and correctness. For example, Burton would much rather mention Todd eluding the authorities in passing to move the story forward than elaborate on his return from exile and keeping the film stagnant.

As for his muse and leading man, Johnny Depp's singing won't land him a role in Broadway any time soon. It is his cut-throat, menacing and tortured portrayal of Sweeney Todd that viewers should look out for. Helena Bonham-Carter is equally believable as Todd's partner in crime and erstwhile love interest. Both of which emphasize the bizarre qualities of her character that enables Todd's murderous plot. Alan Rickman and Sacha Baron Cohen bring the poignancy and sleaziness of their villainous roles, roles wherein they rightfully earn the audience's contempt.

In the end, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street may be the darkest of Burton's films but is also like every film he has made in the sense that he makes the dark and taboo palatable to almost everyone.

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about the movie

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) is a British-American period slasher musical film directed by Tim Burton from a screenplay penned by John Logan. It is an adaptation of the 1979 musical of the same title, which was written by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler. The film stars Burton-pillars Johnny Depp as the titular character and Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett.