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:: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Based on the 1979 Broadway musical originally staged by Harold Prince, Sweeney Todd is the gruesome story of a man ruined by injustice, driven madly into revenge and exploited by a capitalist system. Benjamin Barker was a talented young barber with a pretty wife and a baby daughter when he was wrongfully arrested by a corrupt judge who coveted the wife for himself. Sent away to rot in an Australian penal colony, Benjamin, now going by the name of Sweeney Todd, dreams of revenge and returns to London for that purpose.

Back home, he is recognised by Mrs. Lovett, the widow who owns the meat pie emporium under Todd's barbershop. She fills him in on what happened to his family in his absence (his wife drank poison and his daughter became the ward of the judge) and reintroduces him to his treasured silver razors. When Todd's first attempt at killing the judge fails, he expands his murderous rage to encompass all of society, furnishing the vile Mrs. Lovett with an endless supply of fresh meat.

Tim Burton's adaptation is a funny, moody musical blood bath. It's also notably cuter than its famous theatrical predecessors - which is what happens when you cast Johnny Depp as the serial throat-slitter and Helena Bonham Carter as his cannibal pie-making accomplice.

I enjoyed Sweeney Todd for several reasons: Stephen Sondheim's score is brilliant and the lyrics very funny and very dark; Helena Bonham Carter is brilliant as the demented lover of an acknowledged murderer who bakes the corpses into pies; Johnny Depp is brilliant as Sweeney Todd, acting through his expressions rather than through words - his decent singing voice compensating for a dodgy British accent; and Sacha Baron Cohen's scene-stealing performance as Italian barber Pirelli.

It's worth noting one particular scene where Johnny Depp excels - the shot of him looking down at the floor and slowly realising who is really lying there may just be one of the great moments of “realisation” in recent screen acting, supported by the new-found vigour and maturity of his face.

Tim Burton has crafted exactly the kind of musical he'd like to see, which is one that eschews big production numbers and full set pieces in favour of a more naturalistic approach to the movie musical, if characters breaking into song can ever be considered naturalistic.

By taking the show off the stage and onto the screen, the director is able to infuse the affairs with as much blood and grime as the material really calls for. I lost count of the number of jugulars that are slit in the course of the movie, but there are many, and Burton shows the murders from many angles, with blood spurting and flying in all sorts of creative fashions. Few directors besides Dario Argento have ever taken this kind of operatic zeal in the display of gore, therefore it is not for the squeamish.

This is easily Tim Burton's best film since Ed Wood, and one of Johnny Depp's best performances. Highly recommended.