Film: 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street'; Cast: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Alan Rickman; Director: Tim Burton; Rating: ***
Musicals are not supposed to be scary, let alone gory. 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street' smashes safe notions of those safe musicals by presenting us with one of the darkest stories set to music.
Johnny Depp is Sweeney Todd and after sitting through this movie, it becomes clear why the movie's full title is 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street'.
Depp's performance as a man so consumed by revenge that it destroys him is poignantly restrained. Just hearing that this would be a Tim Burton-Johnny Depp movie is warning enough, for they have worked together on darker gothic fares like 'Sleepy Hollow' (1999), 'Edward Scissorhands' (1990) and 'Ed Wood' (1994).
With 'Sweeney Todd', they notch up horror and gore while still trying to have a heart. The movie may be bizarrely violent, but it is also a tale of a man obsessed with vengeance and instead of delivering peace it ruins many around him.
Depp is Benjamin Barker, who returns to England after spending 15 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He escapes and is set on killing Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), who sent him to jail so he could have his wife.
Barker adopts the new name Sweeney Todd and returns to his parlour located above the house of Mrs. Nellie Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), whom he befriends. She is not having any luck selling her meat pies until she hits upon the idea of killing London residents when they come in for a haircut or shave and serve them as meat pies.
The movie, since it already had source material in the famous Broadway play of the same name written by Stephen Sondheim, depicts its bleakness strongly.
We get to see the underbelly of London. The music is not meant to inspire or be hummed as in other popular musicals like 'The Sound of Music'. The tunes are dramatic and with the actors singing their own parts doesn't sound too professional.
Both Depp and Carter do a commendable job with singing. The most striking aspect of the movie is its production. The movie is shorn of all colours so that the red of the blood shines, making it striking in both its physical and symbolic form.
There are no light moments, but the movie manages to ease for a bit when Signor Adolfo Pirelli, played by the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen of 'Borat' fame shows up. But he too is taken care of.
Another striking aspect of the movie is the blood. It borders on comic and at times distracts from the intensity. Depp's face doesn't register absolutely anything besides the single-minded seeking of revenge and yet the blood squirting seems to be played for a comic effect.
The fact that it is a musical pulls it back from veering off into the territory of horror films or an unintentionally comic one. This movie is not for the light-hearted or for the easily squeamish.
But for those who need a break from the popular fluffy musicals, Sweeney Todd is worth the indulgence, especially with the remarkable Depp anchoring it.