Monday, 7 January 2008

Sweeney Todd

A dark, disturbing, incredibly graphic and extremely violent tale of revenge, mass murder and cannibalism: what’s not to like? Sarcasm aside, this film will likely be in my top ten films of 2007. What is wrong with me, you ask. Am I just a sucker for films in which the protagonist is a mass murderer who actually elicits sympathy from us (as also found in my favourite film of 2006: Perfume)? I don’t think so. So perhaps I’m just a sucker for gorgeously-filmed brilliantly-directed perfectly-acted musicals? You bet I am, especially if it’s a musical I have long admired.

This twisted gem of a film from twisted director Tim Burton is based on my favourite Stephen Sondheim musical, the blackest of comedies and the darkest of musicals. It concerns a barber who returns to London after fifteen years of wrongful imprisonment to find that his wife has committed suicide and his daughter is the ward of the judge who was responsible for his imprisonment. To put it mildly, the barber goes mad with thoughts of revenge. Joining Burton again (from The Corpse Bride) are Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, whose performances are magnificent. They even sing (who knew Depp could sing that well?)! It is partly because of Depp’s great acting that we are drawn to his character (Sweeney Todd) despite Todd’s murderous insanity. In fact, we are even ready to believe that the most evil character in the film is not the murdering demon barber of Fleet Street but the judge, played (well) by Alan Rickman (and yes, he sings too!).

With everything done so well (acting, directing, writing, music, cinematography), Sweeney Todd might have occupied a higher position among my top ten films of 2007 had it not been for all the blood. I appreciate that the graphic nature of the violence made it more difficult to take pleasure in the killing, which I tend to view as a positive thing (missing from Perfume), and I know this graphic violence was deliberately over-the-top (as was the violence in Burton’s Sleepy Hollow; also starring Depp) and not really redemptive, but it still overwhelmed and distracted me enough to limit my enjoyment of the film. If you want to be desensitized to graphic film violence, Sweeney Todd is a good place to start. But if the sight of blood spurting from a slashed neck is not your idea of a good time, you might want to skip this one.

Still, I can’t help but give Sweeny Todd ****. My mug is up, with the blackest brew imaginable.


  1. What the heck? You slam Stardust for the violence and then give four stars to Sweeney Todd? I've never been one to emphasize the need for consistency but I'm at a loss. Allow me to quote from that review: "Any chance of a favourable review from me was dashed by this callous use of violence. Very sad." Is there not a problem if you think you can revel in one kind of entertainment experience as an adult and are greatly saddened by an incredibly mild form of such violence for kids?

  2. I believe I said very clearly that I did not revel in the violence in Sweeney Todd. On the contrary, it was the violence that kept me from truly enjoying what was otherwise a masterpiece of filmmaking.

    I also warn about the violence repeatedly and I condemn the graphic use of violence in this film, though I see some positive sides to it (see review).

    Sweeney Todd is clearly aimed at an adult audience and so does not draw the same condemnation as Stardust for its use of violence. Sweeney Todd does not teach adults that violence is a way to solve problems. All it does is desensitize people to graphic violence (also bad, but as i said, it has some positive effects). Stardust and other childrens' films with violence suggest that violence is a legitimate way to solve problems and this deserves the harshest condemnation.

    But the bottom line for me is that Stardust was a mediocre film (violence aside) and Sweeney Todd is a brilliant work of art (violence aside) and my stars primarily reflect that. I probably would have given Stardust a half-star more if I had not had a problem with the violence and Sweeney Todd would have been five places higher in my top ten films of 2007 were it not for the violence.