Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
I left the movie musical Sweeney Todd: the Demon
Barber of Fleet Street singing –“I’m Bleedin’ in the Rain.”
Times certainly have changed.
Sweeney Todd is a throat-slasher of a motion picture. It creates a new genre — the slasher musical. Adapted from the Tony-winning Broadway musical by Stephen Sondheim, it’s the tuneful tale of cutthroat’s
A 19th century barber (Johnny Depp) in London is
falsely imprisoned (maybe times haven’t changed that
much) and sent to Australia by a scheming judge (Alan
Rickman), who covets the young man’s beautiful wife
(Laura Michelle Kelly) and infant daughter.
Many years later the barber returns to London and
hears that his wife committed suicide and his
daughter (Jayne Wisener) is now a ward of the judge,
isolated in a room of his house.
The deranged barber — who now calls himself
Sweeney Todd — joins up with Nellie Lovett (Helena
Bonham-Carter), the owner of a destitute pie shoppe.
They partner in a grisly conspiracy to cut the
throats of unsuspecting clients seeking a shave. She
creates a booming business of meat pies, made from the
remains of victims. Eat your hearts out, cream pie throwers of silent
Sweeney goes on a gory rampage, as he seeks to
revenge himself on the nefarious judge. Bloodletting, cannibalism and sadism — ah, the sweet reveries of the contemporary musical!
Director Tim Burton collaborates for the sixth time
with Johnny Depp. Depp has gone from scizzorhands to
Sallow and dark, Depp is bleakly compelling as the
stricken barber, who goes off into demonic,
Helena Bonham-Carter makes a fiendishly fetching
Nellie (in the role Angela Lansbury nailed on stage).
Alan Rickman is sinister as Judge Turpin. Nobody does
odium better than Timothy Spaal, portraying Beadle
Bamford who is in corrupt cohoots with the judge.
Jayne Wisener and James Campbell Bower make a
winsome young couple of would-be lovers. And Edward
Sanders is credible as a young street urchin.
Sweeney Todd is a new kind of movie musical. It
brings several modern updates of songs to mind:
“On the Street Where You Got Sliced.”
“Blooddrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.”
“Try to Remember Not to Spatter.”
“Can You Feel the Blade Tonight?”
“Somewhere Over the Clavicle.”
Sweeney Todd ushers in a new age. It’s a grave new
world of musicals. As director Tim Burton struts in, Sidney Lumet
Lumet’s latest film, Before the Devil Knows You’re
Dead is an unpleasant film with unpleasant characters.
It would be easy to dismiss, if it weren’t directed by
maestro Sidney Lumet.
Lumet’s first film 12 Angry Men (1957) makes a
stark contrast with his creation 50 years later. In 12
Angry Men, justice and honor prevailed in the person
of an urban white knight (Henry Fonda).
In Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, justice and
honor are defunct. Gray small-timers have replaced the
hero in white.
Lumet has had a luminous career, highlighted by
such films as Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon
(1975), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Network
(1976) and The Verdict (1982).
Lumet’s 83 years old, and Devil could be his swansong.
It’s a baffling choice. Maybe age has made him more
misanthropic. Perhaps Before the Devil Knows You’re
Gone is a metaphor for Lumet and his career.
It’s the story of an old man (Albert Finney) with
two sons. One of the sons (Philip Seymour Hoffman)
plans a robbery of a mom-and-pop jewelry store. The
younger one (Ethan Hawke) reluctantly agrees. The robbery goes awry with disastrous repercussions for a family. Who knows whom the sons represent for Lumet — maybe movie execs?
The final scene when the father walks off into
the light is a nice personal exit for the director. But the movie is labored and repetitive.
Recently Lumet, Hoffman and Hawke appeared on the
Charlie Rose television show. Rose was his usual
fatuous self, with his pleased smirk after he had
asked one of his verbose questions — with pretentious, pregnant pauses.
Long shots showed him looking down on a paper for
his next question, while the trio talked. He barely
listened, except to interrupt. But the articulate trio wasn’t dissuaded. Their conversation was engaging.
Obviously, it was much more interesting than Rose.
Unfortunately, it also was much more interesting than