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Johnny Depp and Tim Burton join forces again in a big-screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's award-winning musical thriller "Sweeney Todd." Depp stars in the title role as a man unjustly sent to prison who vows revenge, not only for that cruel punishment, but for the devastating consequences of what happened to his wife and daughter. When he returns to reopen his barber shop, Sweeney Todd becomes the Demon Barber of Fleet Street who "shaved the heads of gentlemen who never thereafter were heard from again." Joining Depp is Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett, Sweeney's amorous accomplice, who creates diabolical meat pies. The cast also includes Alan Rickman, who portrays the evil Judge Turpin, who sends Sweeney to prison and Timothy Spall as the Judge's wicked associate Beadle Bamford and Sacha Baron Cohen is a rival barber, the flamboyant Signor Adolfo Pirelli.
After years of rumors, it turns out that Tim Burton was the perfect visionary to film Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Stephen Sondheim's Broadway masterpiece, and the result is a macabre and moving musical movie as enthralling as anything Burton has ever done. The show's mix of gothic horror, Grand Guignol, very dark humor, and witty and beautiful music never was the stuff of traditional musical comedy, but it's a powerful work, and perhaps the richest of the late 20th century. In the movie, Burton's frequent collaborator, Johnny Depp, plays Todd, a wronged man whose lust for revenge drives him to murder an 19th-century legend who has been traced to a real-life barber. Helena Bonham Carter, another Burton mainstay, is Mrs. Lovett, the barber's partner-in-unspeakable-crime. It's no surprise that Depp is an excellent choice to convey Todd's brooding intensity and volcanic rage, but he can also sing a score that is so challenging it has often played in opera houses though not with the same style as the Broadway original, Len Cariou, and he occasionally lapses into pop style. Bonham Carter is small of voice and lacks the humor of the original Broadway Lovett, Angela Lansbury, but she sings on pitch, in rhythm, and in character at the same time, which is no small feat for a Sondheim show. Aficionados will regret the loss of certain musical passages--"The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" is just an instrumental overture and the chorus is gone altogether, among others--but the reassuring presence of orchestrator Jonathan Tunick and conductor Paul Gemignani ensures that the music feels right and sounds great. And the film's depiction of a Victorian London hellhole--with cinematography by Dariusz Wolski and costumes by Colleen Atwood--also looks and feels right.
The excellent cast is filled out by Alan Rickman as the villainous Judge Turpin, Timothy Spall as his seedy Beadle, Sacha Baron Cohen Borat as a rival barber, Jamie Campbell Bower as the young lover Anthony, Jayne Wisener as his object of affection, and Ed Sanders as the young Toby. For fans of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp who don't think they like musicals, Sweeney Todd should be a revelation though not for the squeamish, as the gore is intense and completely appropriate. For fans of Broadway and Sondheim, it's hard to imagine getting a better adaptation than this. The fact that there's no newly composed Oscar-bait song sung by a Josh Groban-type over the end credits only makes it better. --David Horiuchi