Monday, 18 February 2008

Review: Sweeney Todd

I’m not a connoisseur of musicals (indeed a not even a fan of musicals), and only rarely see them, either on stage or screen, so seeing Sweeney Todd was an interesting experience for me. I already knew the basic story (I must have picked it up by osmosis, I guess, since I have never actually read or seen any version of it), but it was interesting to see the plot details that I hadn’t picked up from wherever I heard it.

The design and cinematography were very stylish, but aside from the hair and make up (and to an extent the costumes), they seemed actually very restrained for Tim Burton. The settings were pretty authentic (with a hint of stage-scenery about them), and the whole thing felt much closer to a period piece than the nightmarish caricature of London that I half expected. I’m not sure if this was a good or bad thing – it made the whole thing play a little safer, since a really overblown backdrop could have been hugely distracting, but at the same time the stylised characters occasionally felt a little out of place in the setting.

My only worry leaving the cinema was the Benjamin Barker character. I liked Johnny Depp in the role, and I thought that he did brilliantly in the more intense scenes, particularly towards the end, but I was having nagging doubts throughout about some of his scenes. It may be my misinterpretation of the story, or a lack of knowledge of the adaptation, but a lot of the time Barker seemed to be bored or daydreaming rather than brooding and plotting revenge. I accept that it’s a subtle difference, but one which I really didn’t feel was made. He didn’t seem particularly unhinged, and the emotionless style of the killing throughout meant that he seemed much less like a human reacting to an extraordinary situation and more like a puppet playing out a role without particular motivation. There’s a lot of slashing of throats without a real change in Barker’s character, and while this may be intended, it made it a bit unsatisfying from a dramatic standpoint.

Part of what contributed to this, was the slightly cartoonish way that the story was presented – characters were more caricatured than deeply laid out, and the whole thing felt slightly glossed over. Again, this isn’t really a major criticism, since I enjoyed the film as a whole, but I felt that maybe I would have been more gripped by something that looked a little bit more deeply at the depth of the characters involved, rather than just playing out the plot superficially. There were a lot of characters that were only lightly touched on, and even the main ones felt too one-dimensional at times.

I’ve concentrated on the few niggling issues I had here, and, as I say, in general I was very happy with the film. The darkness was well managed all the way through, and the climax was both exciting and horrifying. The singing only seemed out of place occasionally, and added an interesting aspect to a lot of the scenes. Rickman and Bonham-Carter were great, and aside from the points above, Depp did well with a difficult role.

Verdict: As long as you don’t expect too much depth and character, there’s a dark, entertaining story to be had here. 7/10.

No comments: