DVD Release Date:  April 1, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  December 21, 2007
Rating:  R (for graphic bloody violence)
Genre:  Musical
Run Time:  117 min.
Director:  Tim Burton
Actors:  Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jamie Campbell Bower, Laura Michelle Kelly, Jayne Wisener, Ed Sanders

And the Oscar for “Excessive Scenes of Spurting, Flowing, Pooling, Cascading, Gushing Geysers of Blood” goes to … Sweeney Todd!

In a year when Cormac McCarthy’s bleak prose found its match in filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen (who adapted McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men) and Ian McEwan’s tale Atonement came to astonishing cinematic life at the hands of helmer Joe Wright, who also had directed Atonement star Keira Knightley in the recent film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Stephen Sondheim’s musical about Sweeney Todd—known as the “demon barber of Fleet Street”—represents another great marriage of material to director. In this case, Sondheim’s macabre story is in the hands of director Tim Burton and star Johnny Depp, who previously brought us the dark tales Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow.
The question on the minds of many viewers will be whether Depp can sing. The answer is, yes, he can, well enough to justify his casting here. His co-star, Helena Bonham Carter, is slightly less successful but still passable in the role of Mrs. Lovett. Their adequacy as singers allows us to focus on the story, told mostly through song, of Benjamin Barker, a barber sent to prison for years by the cruel Judge Turpin (a wonderful Alan Rickman) and his protector (Timothy Spall) so that Turpin can claim Barker’s wife for himself.

Released years later, an older, unkempt, and largely unrecognizable Barker christens himself Sweeney Todd and returns to his former home, determined to avenge the crimes against him. Those crimes are magnified when his former landlady, Mrs. Lovett—a pie maker who claims to make the “worst pies in London”—tells Todd that his wife poisoned herself after Turpin carried out his plan and she is now deceased, but the judge intends to marry Barker’s teenage daughter, who was only an infant when Turpin made her his ward.

After Todd publicly demonstrates his prowess with razors—in the process humiliating a shady businessman (Sacha Baron Cohen)—he sets up shop above Mrs. Lovett’s bakery and awaits his chance to dispatch his enemies. Soon the “demon barber” is killing his clients by slitting their throats, stabbing them in the neck, or by other gruesome means. After striking the lethal blow, Todd finishes off his victims by dropping their bodies through a trap door in the floor, whereupon they land head-first, with a thud, on the basement floor of Mrs. Lovett’s pie bakery. Their ultimate fate as the secret ingredient in Mrs. Lovett’s reformulated pies is grislier still.

These scenes of murder are not pleasant, to say the least, but somewhat offsetting all the grim tone is the story of Todd’s young friend Anthony Hope (Jamie Campbell Bower) and his efforts to rescue Todd’s daughter, Johanna (Jayne Wisener), from the clutches of Judge Turpin. Still, their young love is overwhelmed by Todd’s sorrow and grief. Not even the love of Mrs. Lovett for Todd can deter his rage. In one song, “My Friends,” she expresses her longing for him while he, oblivious to her advances, sings lovingly of his knives.