Sweeney Todd

The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Dir: Tim Burton
Star: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter, Alan Rickman, Jamie Campbell Bower

There is only really one problem with this musical. The bad news is, it's the music. While I've no problem with the genre, I like them to have i>songs: y'know, something you can hum in the shower. Stephen Sondheim seems to prefer to have collections of notes rather than actual tunes. While I can't deny the artful construction, the results sound pretty dissonant to my ears, and it certainly doesn't do much for my interest when I found myself wincing inwardly, whenever any of the cast members inhaled deeply. The story shouldn't need much recounting. Mad barber (Depp) - here, unjustly imprisoned because Judge Turpin (Rickman) fancied his wife - teams up with pie-shop owner (Bonham-Carter), in a venture of mutual interest. Savoury snacks with dubious fillings ensue.

Outside of the music, this is actually fine. It's clear where Burton's sympathies lie, with the psychotic shaver and he takes some care to make us feel his actions are, to a large extent, justified. It was initially tempting to see Captain Jack Sparrow - the voice is almost the same - but that passes, and there's no denying a lot of effort has gone into creating the setting. Almost as much, perhaps, as into the arterial spurting, that achieves an almost lyrical quality, the slashed jugulars pulsating gently in time with the music. Okay, maybe not. It's a shame the film's focus is undeniably diluted by a side-plot involving Turpin's adopted daughter and some guy, that fails to add anything of significance; on the other hand, we did enjoy the extended cameo of Ali G Sacha Baron Cohen as Italian barber Pirelli. Such positive points are outweighed by the problems, and this has to go down as one of Burton's less successful efforts - he seems a lot better when working with his own imagination, rather than trying to adapt someone else's.

[October 2008]

A close shave
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