Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (UK/ USA, 2007)
Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall
One of the main accusations about Tim Burton is that he has essentially made the same film for more than thirty years. Burton's status as a latter-day auteur, with a distinctive visual style and approach to storytelling, has frequently left him open to the criticism that he is repeating himself. 'Burtonian' may not be as widespread an adjective as Kubrickian, Lynchian or Hitchcockian, but it comes with both the same pressure to live up to early promise and the same pitfalls of focussing on style at the expense of substance - a peril I discussed at length in my review of Wild at Heart.
Batman Returns, had been (unfairly) criticised for being too dark and cold. But for those who found Big Fish too cheerful, this is the perfect antidote, returning us to the grim, dark world, at once oppressive and fantastic, that Burton has made his own.
reviewed the film on BBC Radio 5 Live, he described it as "the flipside of Edward Scissorhands", talking about how the look and manner of Johnny Depp's performance was a twisted inversion of that film's protagonist, turning Edward's innocent harming of those he loved into a conscious murderous crusade. There are also huge similarities in approach to Sleepy Hollow, not only with the 18-certificate violence but the emphasis on period detail and a community feeding on itself (quite literally, of course).
Get Carter (or possibly The Last House on the Left) has so perfectly captured the self-destructive nature of revenge - how those bent on vengeance end up becoming consumed by their own misguided obsession. The initial telling of Lucy's apparent demise leads us to sympathise (at least somewhat) with Sweeney's plight, but by the time he has killed for the first time he has already crossed over into darkness. Eventually he becomes so fixated on killing Judge Turpin that he doesn't even recognise the woman he loved, slitting her throat without saying a word to her. Burton's rendering of both her death and Sweeney's are both graphic and beautiful, using their blood in a manner that would make Dario Argento proud.
Alan Rickman is perfectly cast as Judge Turpin, a part which, like Hans Gruber in Die Hard, is at turns darkly funny and deeply threatening. He sings like a deep bassoon and relishes being lecherous without ever over-playing it. Timothy Spall, who previously proved his singing credentials in Topsy-Turvy, struts through his part like a proud toad, again striking a balance between comedy and intimidation. And Sacha Baron Cohen, fresh off the back of Borat, gives one of his finest performances as Adolfo Pirelli; he's so charmingly ridiculous that he almost steals the show.
Dark City) brings out the deep reds and sharp silvers to create a world which is both gruesome and painstakingly beautiful. The city seems to stretch forever, like a nightmarish labyrinth with Sweeney and Mrs Lovett as its Minotaurs, while the seaside scene hilariously juxtaposes Burton's designs with a sugary setting. Best of all is the closing scene, which borrows from The Third Man and the 'Acid Queen' sequence in Ken Russell's Tommy to conjure up a truly masterful climax.
NEXT REVIEW: Spectre (2015)