Attend This Tale of Sweeney Todd

22 Dec

How excited was I to see Sweeney Todd?

Well, as I’ve previously stated, it’s one of my favorite musicals of all time, and I had high hopes based on the trailer.

And now, having seen the film, I’m happy to say I was not disappointed.

Sweeney Todd tells the story of Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp), a wrongly imprisoned barber who returns to London having rechristened himself Sweeney Todd. He’s hellbent on having his revenge against the judge who took his wife and child away from him. But when Sweeney decides not to stop at just the judge, and that “they all deserve to die,” he hatches a plan with Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), his downstairs neighbor, to grind up the bodies and turn them into meat pies.

Soon the city population is a fraction of what it once was, and Mrs. Lovett is making the most popular pies in London.

The film is directed by Mr. Macabre himself, Tim Burton, so needless to say, it’s a very dark film and there’s a lot of blood.

And yes, if you missed it above, this is a musical. But it’s safe to say you’ve never seen a musical quite like this.

As Todd, Depp doesn’t have the strongest voice, but his forceful performance almost covers that over.

I also sort of wish Burton had gone with someone whose voice was lower and not the baritone that Depp has. (Someone like, oh, Michael Cerveris perhaps.)

But Depp is very, very good in the role, and he’s certainly a better singer than Bonham Carter, who really can’t sing all that well. She gives a fine performance, but she’s not nearly as good as, say, Patti LuPone or Angela Lansbury (so I’ve heard; I’ve never seen Lansbury’s performance).

Across the board, it’s clear that the cast was chosen not for their vocal chops but for their acting abilities, and from Sasha Baron Cohen’s comical Pirelli to Timothy Spall’s skeevy Beadle Bamford, they all inhabit their roles quite well.

And Burton has streamlined the story, doing away, unfortunately, with “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” (which now serves as a lyric-free overture) and either shortening or eliminating other songs, but keeping the focus more on Todd’s pursuit of revenge.

The result is a film that’s less than two hours long, not necessarily a bad thing.

Burton’s also done away with much of the theatricality, thankfully, turning Sweeney into an actual movie, not an adaptation. There’s no factory whistle when someone’s throat is slit, like there often is on stage.

And when the characters sing (and if you don’t know, they sing about 85% of the time), it’s not so much a break for a song; instead, Stephen Sondheim’s songs really do serve the plot. They’re like sung dialogue, in a good way.

If you generally don’t like musicals, this is the one to see. And yes, the blood does flow, from the first frame to the last. It’s a thick, tomato soup–like blood, and man, is it gory.

As with the show, my favorite song is “A Little Priest,” where Lovett and Todd delight in the different types of pies created by different types of victims (“The trouble with poet is how do you know it’s deceased?”).

On the other hand, I still get bored by the Anthony-Johanna subplot.

But no matter.

Sweeney Todd the movie is very entertaining, well-made, and cool. Not sure it’s the kind of movie musical I’m going to run to see multiple times (unlike, say, Hairspray), but it stands alone as a singular vision and not a retread of what many have already seen on stage.

And for that, I’m giving Sweeney a strong B+.

2 Responses to “Attend This Tale of Sweeney Todd”


  1. A Letter to Sacha Baron Cohen « Martin's Musings - May 19, 2012

    […] you think of what that’ll be, your appearances in films like Hugo and Sweeney Todd — not to mention Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby — prove you’re a talented actor […]

  2. Yes, I Hear the People Sing. Please Make Them Stop « Martin's Musings - December 19, 2012

    […] parts live, as opposed to lip-synching to a prerecorded track (which is how most musicals, from Sweeney Todd to the TV show Glee, are made). That allowed the cast to focus as much on their acting as on their […]

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