…I felt like I had to qualify which version of this I was reviewing. For those who are still confused, yes, this is the version with Johnny Depp.
Fifteen years ago, Benjamin Barker was falsely accused and convicted of a crime by a corrupt Judge Turpin and sentenced to life in a penal colony. However, his ship capsizes at sea and he is rescued by Anthony Hope and brought aboard another ship that eventually returns to England. There, Barker takes on the alias of Sweeney Todd and discovers that the judge who condemned him also left his life in ruins to satisfy his own lust. With the help of Mrs. Lovett, his neighbor from before the conviction, he declares that he will have his revenge against not only the judge, but all the people of London. But things are not as they seem, and the greatest tragedy of all is set to take the stage…
I’m not going to pick on the plot too much on this one. It was actually really solid and historically grounded, and is also somewhat based on an urban legend, so… Free pass. I will offer a little interpretation I have, which is the true villain is not Turpin or Todd… But Mrs. Lovett. I feel like she is real the center of everything that goes wrong. I don’t have proof of her being behind what happens to Lucy Barker, but I have the feeling of it. She’s definitely why Todd ends up as twisted as he is, with her being the one to suggest cannibalism, plus the ending reveal (which I won’t spoil). And what happened to her husband? I don’t know, but it’s convenient that he isn’t around anymore.
Now to the actual actors. I gotta say, Todd was great. Johnny Depp had a certain croon when he was being, for lack of a better explanation, the man Benjamin Barker was, and then a deeply gravely growl when he was being Sweeney Todd. The counter balance was just amazing. Okay, I was making Harry Potter cracks over the casting discussions for Turpin and his croney, the Beadle, because… Snape and Pettigrew. I can’t help it. Toby also seemed to grow (too much, I mean) between his first scene as the barber’s apprentice to shop boy. The only one I really had issue with otherwise was Carter as Mrs. Lovett. Sometimes, her way of being slow and creepy was just fine. But others, I felt like she missed that Mrs. Lovett was being a used carsalesman, one that sometimes talks too much. This was particularly obvious in “Worst Pies in London,” where she’s supposed to be talking Todd up…except she’s so slow in her movements, it completely contradicts the pacing of the actual song. I mean, Pirelli annoyed me for similar reasons, since he really should have been hamming it up and instead he was so tight and small in his movements, but his part is minor. Lovett isn’t, and that was disappointing.
From the horror standpoint, despite Burton wanting it to be a gore fest, it just doesn’t get there. Now, depending on the director in a stage production, your gore factor will wildly vary, but I expected a film version to be outright gruesome. Instead, similar to Sleepy Hollow, Burton used a rather comically shade of red for the blood, one that was extremely unrealistic (this spoken as someone with a skin condition that’s led me to some rather gruesome moments). It’s also got the consistency of milk, which is nothing like what you actually look for. So yes, it turns the stomach, but not for the ick, it’s blood factor, just the ewww, that looks gross one.
Musicals are not what people usually associate with Halloween. But I think you should make an exception for Sweeney Todd. It won’t completely give you nightmares, and the story really is quite sad, so don’t spoil yourself with Wikipedia summaries until you see it! The movie cuts some sillier scenes from the musical, so your grim and dark Halloween mood won’t be broken up by them, and instead it just lets you focus on the horrible, tragic circumstances of these characters. (It also does miracles for Johanna’s character, but that’s my opinion.)