Off the top of my head, I’m not sure I can think of a better match of artist and material than Tim Burton and “Sweeney Todd.” The sensibilities of Stephen Sondheim’s musical (which I’ve never seen) are a perfect match for the visual acumen and story-telling style of Burton, and the result is a movie that succeeds on almost every level.
And Johnny Depp makes the perfect Sweeney Todd. A tragic figure who has been wronged by life, the former Benjamin Barker decides to take out his revenge, both on the man who wronged him and the society that allowed it to happen, by becoming “the demon barber of Fleet Street.” And as anyone even slightly familiar with the story knows, his victims find their way into the meat pies of Mrs. Lovett, played with gusto as well as vulnerability by Helena Bonham Carter.
The cast is uniformly superb (not to mention a veritable who’s who of “Harry Potter” alums), from Alan Rickman as the evil Judge Turpin and Timothy Spall as his sadistic sidekick Beadle, to Jamie Campbell Bower as the young and idealistic Anthony and Jayne Wiesner as Johanna, the linchpin for everyone’s actions in the movie. I’m no expert on Broadway musicals or the work of Stephen Sondheim, but the songs, while not “catchy” in the traditional sense, are brilliantly intricate, providing all the exposition one needs to follow the story, so that the actors can focus on the characters and their actions.
The movie also has a magnificent, dark look, thanks to the cinematography of Dariusz Wolski, the production design by Dante Ferretti, the set direction by Francesca Lo Schiavo, and the art direction by Gary Freeman and David Warren. Together, they create a London that is lot scarier, not to mention more convincing, than the Gotham City of Burton’s “Batman.”
My only complaint? I’m not really sure we needed to see quite that much spurting blood. But aside from that, I’d call “Sweeney Todd” an unqualified success.