Writers: Christopher Bond (play), John Logan (script)
Producer: Richard D. Zanuck
Music: Stephen Sondheim
Starring: Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd
Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett
Sacha Baron Cohen as Signor Adolfo Pirelli
Alan Rickman as Judge Turpin
Laura Michelle Kelly as Beggar Woman
as The Beadle
Anthony Stewart Head
Studio: DreamWorks Pictures
Sweeney Todd is one of the best screen musicals of recent years, and probably Tim Burton's best film since Ed Wood. I've watched the stage production on DVD, so I mostly knew what to expect from the film. Burton and his screenwriter wisely cut some of the longer songs and the plot is more streamlined, but overall it's a pretty faithful adaptation.
The opening computer generated credits are a little too Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for my taste, but as soon as Sweeney and Anthony arrive in the cesspool of London, the film really grabbed me. It takes its time to get to the killings, but that lets us get to know the characters. When the murders do come they're treated as wonderfully twisted Grand Guignol, with more blood spraying than even in Sleepy Hollow. The ending is abrupt yet entirely appropriate for what is essentially a dark tragedy (though with lots of Burton's trademark macabre humour, of course).
The cast is uniformly great. Johnny Depp overcomes any doubts and really does a good job both with his acting and singing. His Sweeney is more introspective than the stage version, and retains his humanity even as his behavior becomes more monstrous as the film progresses (in a memorable sequence he dumps countless dead bodies from his barber chair only to spare one man who brought his wife and child with him). Even better is Helana Bonham Carter. She has a lovely voice and brings out the tragic side of Mrs. Lovett more so than I felt in the stage version. The "By the Sea" sequence where she imagines herself living on a colorful seafront with Sweeney is particularly wonderful. Alan Rickman is great as always, playing the despicable Judge Turpin. Sacha Baron Cohen is hilarious in the small but important role of Pirelli, and his fate is one of the more shocking in the film. Jamie Campbell Bower and Jayne Wisener are fine in the admittedly rather wet roles of Anthony and Johanna. Ed Sanders plays the young Toby and gives an impressive performance for his age. And Tony Head (Giles from Buffy) appears uncredited in the film for all of five seconds!
Visually the film is near perfect, with the blood given a strangely beautiful quality, especially in the final scene. Stephen Sondheim's music fits with Burton's images (or should that be the other way around?) as well as Danny Elfman's. It's really an intimate screen musical, with no big dance numbers and most of the songs shot with closeups of the actors.
The film comments on various aspects of society, from the mistreatment of the lower classes to the ethics of eating meat, but mostly it's a dark yet beautiful "scarytale" with tunes that are sure to get stuck in your head. Burton was once again ignored by the Oscars for this film, but the director has shown pretenders like Joel Schumacher and Chris Columbus how you do a bloody good movie musical!
Read a review of the making of book by Mark Salisbury and see some exclusive pictures!
page for the movie
Sweeney Todd MySpace page
profile of the character Sweeney Todd
Vulture review of the stage production