Tim Burton was destined to direct Sweeney Todd. It is the tragic tale of lost love, unrequited passion, and, um, barbarism. I have to wonder how Burton couldn't succeed with such a story. His fantastical touch glazes the picture with bleakness. Regular Burton cohort Johnny Depp and Burton's wife Helena Bonham Carter lead the production of fine performances that also features the dependable Alan Rickman and, yes, Borat. Overall, the small casts combines to make the slow paced and meticulous journey down Fleet Street hard to shake.
Following the open credits, you're immediately greeted with the four main elements of the story: singing, darkness, Sweeney Todd (Depp), and Anthony Hope (Jamie Campbell Bower). Todd and Hope sail into London crooning about the tragedy and the beauty of the city respectively. The remainder of the movie follows this course. Todd slowly decays into depression while Hope, as his name would suggest, schemes for a romantic escape.
Depp portrays Todd's descent into madness masterfully (as if you didn't expect that level of craft from him). At first, he is merely a sympathetic figure, Benjamin Barker, the man who was unjustly prisoned so Judge Turpin (Rickman) you could steal his beautiful wife and daughter. However, Todd quickly states Barker is no more and you actually feel the truth behind that statement. The killings finally begin and you fully accept the madness. Todd is no longer a man, no longer Barker, he is the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Notably, Depp carries a decent tune. His voice is not amazing, but doesn't jar you out of the experience due to its pure awfulness.
Carter turns in a similar performance to Depp, complete with the passable singing. I mean, these actors are Burton's people, what else would you expect? Truthfully, Carter and Depp's lack of American-Idol voices adds to the story. Their rough delivery of the songs emphasizes the flaws of their characters. They sing as well as they deal with the world.
The rest of the cast picks up what little slack there is. Bower as Hope guides the light within the darkness well. Rickman, though not given a huge amount of time to develop Turpin, is a villain you have disdain for. Perhaps most surprising are young Ed Sanders as Toby and Sacha Baron Cohen as Signor Adolfo Pirelli. Sanders voice is wonderful, and he does a superb job at delivering such an important role. Cohen is amusingly entertaining as the popular local Italian barber. He is proving to be a talented impressionist. By my count, he has now played an Arab, a Frenchman, an Italian, and an Englishman.
Sweeney Todd is a film worth viewing for most adults, fans of Burton or not. The blood and gore are intentionally over the top to the point of becoming a nonentity for the squeamish. Burton is more concerned with contrasting the bright red with the drab black and blue of the picture than the brutality of throat-slitting; and that perspective is the heart of the story. It's so dark and tragic, but executed beautifully so you don't miss the point. The final shot is also so powerful it's sure to become iconic.