These people are sick motherfuckers. Johnny Depp, Tim Burton, Stephen Sondheim, Helena Carter... sick, sick motherfuckers.
If my first paragraph makes you want to see this movie, then chances are you'll enjoy it on one level or another. If not, then you just might be traumatized.
I knew nothing at all about this movie going into it. Turns out it's a musical based on a Broadway hit. The premise of it is that Sweeny Todd is a slightly insane barber returning to London seeking revenge. After meeting up with the owner of a meat pie business, Mrs. Lovett, opening his barbershop upstairs, and deciding that the entire damn city deserves to die, he becomes a serial killer. Basically, anytime someone comes in for a shave, he slits their throat. All of this is set to the delightful sounds of Broadway musical music.
I told you they were sick motherfuckers. Now, about the music. This is one of the rare musicals that really focuses much more on the story than the music. Only a few of the simplistic tunes are memorable (usually the ones that are repeated three or more times throughout), and the quality of the singers was put on hold in favor of very solid acting. With that said, the music is by no means painful to listen to, and a lot of it honestly sounds good. Although Depp (the male lead, mind you) shows clear signs of struggling with the range of his part and the recording shows signs of pitch correction, he does keep his part well within character. Carter, likewise, isn't the world's sweetest soprano, but she fits the part. Ironically, the most painful musical performances in the movie come from the two young people, who are the only two characters who really have to sound like good singers. Johanna is supposed to sound like a bird (thus the lyrics in the scene I'm referring to). If the sound coming from that woman's voice is that of a bird, then this bird is probably a baby ostrich with a broken neck. Okay, so I'm exaggerating; she's not that bad, but they really needed a better voice in her part. I would like to stress, though, that despite all of the shortcomings that I could nitpick for hours, the music is solid overall, in terms of both the score and the performances.
With all that said, the acting here is really good. Johnny Depp is an incredibly sinister Sweeny Todd; it's almost scary. Half of it is just that look on his face, but really, it's convincing. The other major roles are also very believable. Even Sacha Baron Cohen (yes, ladies and gentlemen, Borat) is very fitting in his intentionally comical role.
Before I get too far from the subject of music, this movie really would not have worked nearly as effectively as it does if it were not a musical. Watching blood spurt from someone's neck for more than a few seconds at a time to the sweet sounds of delightful showtunes is a large part of this film's atmosphere.
The other major part is the lighting. Shadows, shadows everywhere. And light... to highlight the shadows. The biggest part of it though, is that the color is toned down by a lot in all of the scenes of reality in the movie (in other words, everything that isn't a flashback looks very, very gray).
And I'm not even to the best part yet. This movie is funny. Some of the darkest humor I've ever seen adds even more to the sinister, yet... funny... air about the film. Most of this very dark humor is intentional, though not overdone for the most part. The rest comes from how much of a sick son of a bitch you are.
Sweeny Todd is not for the squeamish. It's loaded with gore, but it's not a horror movie. It's a musical; it's a dark comedy; and it's gruesome. If you're interested after reading my review, then chances are strong that you'll like it. If I had to pick one thing that it does best, I'd say that it conveys a mood, which varies from one scene to another. So although the music won't have you rocking out on your CD player and the story won't exactly lift your spirits (unless you're a sick, sick person), this is, shall we say, a solid work of filmmaking. While not revolutionary per se, it just works.
Caius's rating: 4 stars