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Sweeney Todd (2007)

by on 2011/10/15

“You shall drip rubies, you’ll soon drip precious rubies… “

* * * *

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the raw destructive power of lies.

I guess I’ve been soft on lies my whole life. Raised to be polite no matter what, I was taught that if a lie helped to grease the wheels of polite social interaction, then lying was just fine.

So when a waitress comes by and asks how my food is, I always say, “Great” no matter how wretched the meal.

I smile and say I’m fine, when I’m really not.

I always thought the white lie – a lie in service of kindness – was harmless, even essentially good.

Lately, I’m not so sure.

Sweeney Todd is a tragicomic opera of lies. Big ones, little ones – every one of them deadly.

This Tim Burton movie adaptation based on the Stephen Sondheim’s 1970’s musical is a blood-drenched portrait of bleak, desolate London in the 1800s.

The story centres on Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp), a barber falsely imprisoned and sentenced to hard labour by a corrupt Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman). Turpin lies to pave the way for his assault of Barker’s yellow-haired wife (Laura Michelle Kelly), a woman for whom he lusts.

When Barker returns to London, he changes his name to Sweeney Todd and vows revenge on the lying judge.

When Todd meets Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), a desperate, incompetent small business owner, they create a toxic symbiotic relationship based on a foundation of lies. Mrs. Lovett is motivated by greed and desperation. Todd is motivated by blood lust and vengeance.

Neither loves the other. Todd is catatonic with rage. Mrs. Lovett is gaspingly needy.

They love each other about as much as a drowning man loves his inflatable life raft.

How about this Mrs. Lovett lowered expectations slogan?

“We could have a life, us two. Maybe not like I dreamed. Maybe not like you remember. But we could get by.”

“Getting by,” they kill the Fleet Street barber shop patrons, grind them into mincemeat and bake them into pies. Mrs. Lovett finally has a viable business model.

Yes, human pie sounds bad but it looks even worse.

This is not cartoon gore. It is gag-reflexingly effective.

And the lies upon lies upon lies result in fire hydrants, spray blasters of blood.

Johnny Depp is great as Sweeney Todd – all sunken eyes and gravelly intensity. Helena Bonham Carter is a beautiful sociopath, all curls and menace. Both deliver amazing vocal performances. I watched the film extras detailing both actor’s trials and tribulations preparing for the roles and I respect them even more.

The one big surprise of this gothic black comedy was Sasha Baron Cohen (Borat) as the lying barber Pirelli. He’s not just a comic genius, the goofball can sing. I have to add another point to the list of why I love him so.

I also love Sweeney Todd – but it might be a while before I eat a meat pie.

* * * *

Rated R for graphic bloody violence and Sasha Baron Cohen’s purple pants

116 minutes


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