Make no mistake: I love Tim Burton, and I love many of those in the superb cast of his Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, new on DVD today from DreamWorks — especially title star Johnny Depp. But I don’t love their movie.
Its Broadway-spawned tale of an English barber who’s betrayed and imprisoned, then returns a warped man bent on revenge, is potent enough. But it’s also quite depressing. I mean, what’s to enjoy in this film? The Monty Pythonesque absurdities of the blood geysers when Sweeny shaves his customers in grimy Old Englande a bit too closely? The cast?
Well, there is the great cast, including Burton’s beloved Helena Bonham Carter as Sweeney’s flesh-feeding partner in crime, Sacha Baron Cohen as a wicked rival and Timothy Spall and Alan Rickman as establishment heavies. But then, isn’t almost everyone a heavy in this leaden look at tragedy, misery and revenge, a dish that’s best served cold, but whose stark chill leaves me cold, as a viewer.
Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m a sucker for strong song melodies, and Stephen Sondheim’s score doesn’t have any. Well, maybe the plaintive Joanna, though its tenderness is so out of place that it doesn’t really matter.
Sure, performances are good and the production is immaculate, but to what end? The characers and story are sad if not appalling — and relentlessly so, with no offsetting dark humor, token lift of spirits or hard-earned redemption. Just misery — and unimpressive music.
Again, I love these folks — love them. I just don’t love their movie — not this time. For Depp-Burton horrors that enthrall, not repel, give me Sleepy Hollow or Edward Scissorhands any day.