This latest collaboration between goth-auteur Tim Burton and his longtime muse Johnny Depp is a magnificent, malicious, morbid, and sometimes mirthful, meditation on that all-consuming, unquenchable flame called vengeance. With a little bit of singing and cannibalism thrown in for good measure.
Originally performed on Broadway 28 years ago, Stephen Sondheim's deliciously wicked Grand Guignol has been masterfully moved from the bright lights to the big screen. Burton, who obviously has a thing for musicals (see The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride), definitely knows how to put on a show.
Sweeney Todd is the story of a happily married English barber whose wife, in fact his entire life, is stolen out from underneath by a loathsome, lecherous judge who takes a liking to the barber's wife. After being wrongfully arrested and sentenced with imprisonment in Australia, the barber returns home 15 years later a changed man. He discovers his wife poisoned, his daughter now the ward of the vile Judge Turpin (a sinister - as if he does any other role - Alan Rickman), and, razor sharp blades in hand, he vows his revenge.
Aiding and abetting Sweeney Todd (the delightfully murderous Mr. Depp) in his quest for vengeance is the proprietress of a filthy bakery, Mrs. Lovett (the lovely, wicked, albeit quite dirty, Helena Bonham Carter), whose meat pies are, without a doubt, the absolute worst in all of London. Together, they hatch a plot to do away with those who have wronged Mr. Todd, and turn a tidy profit on the side.
Burton is an absolute maestro of the macabre. From the grimly-lit grime of London's streets to the wild, demonic, blood-spattered visage of Sweeney Todd after he's seen to one of his "customers," Burton's aesthetic is impossible to miss. Indeed, I cannot fathom another film director bringing this musical to all its glorious, gory life the way Tim Burton has.
The film's supporting cast is highlighted by a hilarious Sacha Baron Cohen as rival barber Signor Adolfo Pirelli, who has much too little screen time, and Timothy Spall as Judge Turpin's weaselly errand boy, Beadle Bamford. Also, blink and you might miss a welcome, though incredibly brief, appearance by Giles himself. (They really need to make that "Ripper" spin-off show.)
Not for the faint of heart, Sweeney Todd surely ranks amongst Burton's finest films. Murder and mayhem has rarely been this much fun.