Saturday, December 22, 2007
Review: Sweeney Todd
It's the sound of goths around the world emptying their closets. Now I thought it was so they could buy new clothes in the guise of the new icons of gothdom in this film, the consumptively pale Mr. Depp and Ms. Bonham-Carter; Gene, however, figured that it was in disgust that goth has gone mainstream with Burton's new film. I can see the Halloween costumes next year already churning out of Chinese factories and I can feel a pang of disappointment that the grey streak in my hair is not more prominent.
Okay, yes; I am a sucker for Johnny Depp, which Gene can attest to after sitting through Arizona Dream, but even the NYTimes thought he was terrific in this. He's not got a great voice, but it is an evocative one. Who knew Helena B-C had some pipes on her?
The cartoony opening credits are less effective than the setting throughout. This is Hogarth's London, a pestilential prison on Gin Lane. When Todd sings of his London it's easy to understand his scorn against this back drop:
There's a hole in the world
Like a great black pit
And the vermin of the world
And its morals aren't worth
What a pig could spit
And it goes by the name of London.
The tragic tale spins out in gloom and shadow that signal the devotion to horror that suits Sondheim's dark vision. Sondheim has realized the power of song to uplift even the most morbid topics (think Assassins) and Burton makes the most of this. While the dark humor remains, make no mistake -- this is a tale of revenge and blood. While the blood is a technicolor spray, the violence is very palpably real -- I winced a lot, especially when "customers" went down the chute. It's not a film for everyone, but if you like it dark and don't mind blood, it's a wonderfully surreal trip.
You know the main cast are going to be great -- Alan Rickman almost makes you pity the Judge, but not for long. Timothy Spall just about oozes oily malevolence. The real bonus is the mostly new younger cast: Jamie Campbell Bower makes for a powerfully hopeful Anthony and Jayne Wisener looks like Christina Ricci's lost sister from Sleepy Hollow and lends Joanna a wistfulness that her tortured childhood predicts. Most amazing is Ed Sanders as the boy Toby who has a range of emotions to present and a great singing voice. There are a couple of cameos (one almost too quick to catch) that add a little extra fun.
While most of the film is Depp and Bonham-Carter, the supporting cast keep the film from devolving into just a star vehicle. The wonderful ambiance throughout really throws you into another world. Some of the set pieces really stun -- the brief party scene is just glorious and the whole meat pie system is perfectly gruesome and plausible. While I still quail at the thought of Burton tackling Alice (as Gene says, how will Johnny look in the blonde wig?), this goes a long way toward resurrecting the reputation of the man responsible for the remake of Planet of the Apes.
If you've got a taste for the macabre with catchy tunes, you'll love it. Just be sure to bring some gin and a meat pie for sustenance.