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'Sweeney Todd' slays critics

December 21, 2007 |  4:39 pm

While "Sweeney Todd" may have been missing in action at yesterday's SAG nominations, it opened today to rave reviews from critics. Indeed, it outpolled 4 of the 5 SAG ensemble nominees by coming in at 86 on Meta Critic. That Sweeney_reviews1score was derived from the opinions of 21 leading critics while the equally impressive score of 87 at Rotten Tomatoes was calculated from 87 reviews. So, even though Tim Burton's adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's Tony-winning musical was not seen by enough members of the SAG nominating committee to place in that race, figure on this late entry in the Oscar derby to make a run for the roses.

Unlike Newsweek's Oscar blogger, the magazine's film critic, David Ansen, loved the movie. He says it "is not always easy to watch, but you can't turn away. From our first glimpse of Johnny Depp's haunted, vengeful eyes as the ex-convict barber sails into London on a mission to kill the man who stole his wife and child and sent him off to prison, we're swept into Burton's pitch-black vision. It meshes perfectly with the bitter curl of Sondheim's lyrics." He adds, "Depp is such a soulful presence he gives you a glimpse of this maniac's pain and pathos. Helena Bonham Carter is extraordinary. She reinvents Mrs. Lovett from the inside out — underneath her tough, practical hussy lurks a haunting melancholy, the yearning of a woman in love with an unreachable man, sucked into his madness in the vain hope he'll open his black heart to her."

For Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, the film "works on a quasi-realistic level and not as a musical fantasy. That's not to say we're to take it as fact, but that we can at least accept it on its own terms without the movie winking at us. It combines some of Tim Burton's favorite elements: The fantastic, the ghoulish, the bizarre, the unspeakable, the romantic and in Johnny Depp, he has an actor he has worked with since 'Edward Scissorhands' and finds a perfect instrument. Helena Bonham Carter may be Burton's inamorata, but apart from that, she is perfectly cast, not as a vulgar fishwife type but as a petite beauty with dark, sad eyes and a pouting mouth and a persistent fantasy that she and the barber will someday settle by the seaside. Not bloody likely."

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And in the New York Times, A.O. Scott writes, "Mr. Depp's singing voice is harsh and thin, but amazingly forceful. He brings the unpolished urgency of rock 'n' roll to an idiom accustomed to more refinement, and in doing so awakens the violence of Mr. Sondheim's lyrics and melodies. Some of the crowd-pleasing numbers, like 'The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,' have been pared away, but their absence only contributes to the diabolical coherence of the film, which moves with a furious momentum toward its sanguinary conclusion." For Scott, "the unsettling power of 'Sweeney Todd' comes above all from its bracing refusal of any sentimental consolation, from Mr. Burton's willingness to push the most dreadful implications of Mr. Sondheim's story to their blackest conclusions."

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Comments

The best written female character Sondheim has ever written and he lets it go to Helena Bonham Carter !!?? I can see whythey had to guard against Mrs Lovett becoming the star turn as she did on stage but did they have to underplay her so badly with an actress who appears not to understand what has been handed to her?

Starbuck, "Atonement' sent out screeners, but not till after Thanxgiving after which time most SAG ballots already had been returned. "Sweeney,"
"There Will Be Blood" and "The Great Debaters" did not send out screeners in time for voters to see. That's why two of those movies got shut out. I suspect DDL only got nommed because of reputation and buzz. I don't believe that more than 60 percent of the 2,100 members of the SAG Nom Com actually saw it. I wouldn't be surprised if it was much less.

Tom, is it true that the reason--er, main reason--Sweeney Todd and Atonement were snubbed at the SAGs was because screeners were not sent out? Or am I mistaken, and they simply didn't like the films?

AJF: Egad! What a faux-pas. My apologies to the Chinese and Japanese film industries.

I don't KNOW that "Sweeney" will get a nod, but I think it could and should. Saw the original production in 1979, and many a "Sweeney" therafter. There are things I missed -- it would have been nice if Burton could have found a way to get the lyrics to the Ballad in, if only under the credits, and even a snippet of the lovers' "Kiss Me" would have kept their emotional connection to film intact through the middle section, and Rickman should have been given the Judge's "Johanna." But I didn't miss those things while the film was gripping me at the Thursday midnight Grove screening (which was pretty full) or at last night's 11:30 Dome showing (which was not full but healthily attended). Hadn't planned on seeing it again so soon, but a friend begged, and it does hold up to repeat viewings. In fact, its brilliance becomes even clearer, and the (Hammer Studios-level) gore is a lot easier to take when you know to prepare for it.

What Chloe said. It's all subjective.

I went to a 4.30PM showing of Sweeney yesterday in Toledo. I loved it. My boyfriend (who tends to get very squeamish) loved it.The theatre was packed, and I can honestly say I've never seen people actually stand and applaud at the end of a movie in my hometown. I think people either get this movie and embrace it wholeheartedly, or they don't...

bruincheerleader, you went to a showing at 10:30 in the MORNING on a FRIDAY in LOS ANGELES and was surprised to see the theatre half-empty?

uhh, I'd be surprised if a Harry Potter installment could fill those seats. That's pretty damn early on a weekday.

I went to a midnight screening on Thursday night, and the house was PACKED.

Mindy posted: "I haven't seen Sweeney Todd yet, so I have no opinion on the film." I give you a lot more credit, Mindy, than to Tom - who previously announced that he was going to champion Sweeney Todd (as he did so tiresomely last year with Dreamgirls) even though he hadn't even seen the movie yet. If Sweeney is not nominated for Best Picture, I wonder who Tom will blame this year, following his insulting premise last year that Oscar voters were a bunch of old white guys who couldn't connect with Dreamgirls or its one-note character of Effie?

"Tom, I am sorry, but I don't think we watched the same film. The film is not that great. It sure as hell is not winning best picture..."

Yeah and neither is the piece of crap Crash! And Saving Private Ryan can't lose! Anything can happen.

And actually AJF, Ratatouille is the best reviewed film of the year

i went to a 10:30 am showing at AMC Century City, and the theartre was half -empty...i was surprised..I LOVED THE MOVIE and am very happy it is getting all the critical notices it is...and it deserves them 100%...i will ATTEND THE TALE OF SWEENEY TODD. again...soon...

Just for the sake of getting facts straight, Ratatouille is actually the best reviewed film of the year. It has a 96 at Metacritic from 37 reviews vs. Diving Bell's 91. Ratatouille also has 97 from a whopping 195 reviews at RT vs. Diving Bell's 95, and it also has 100 in COTC.

Along with Diving Bell, I also see No Country For Old Men, Once and Away From Her with higher Metacritic scores than Sweeney Todd, which is now at 85 instead of 86. And Atonement has the same score as Sweeney. And that is just the films in the realm of the Oscars.

As a comparison, The Departed, last year's winner, has an 86 at Metacritic

I haven't seen Sweeney Todd yet, so I have no opinion on the film. I hope it is good, though. I do love the show and Johnny Depp.

Nice article, Tom.

But actually, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the best reviewed film of 2007 so far.

95% on RT, based on 82 reviews (100% Cream of the Crop)
91 on MC, based on 28 reviews

Dorothy, The Departed is a remake of a Hong Kong film, not a Japanese film.

Just wanted you to have your facts straight.

A.O. Scott nailed it. Burton is automatically the best director front-runner, ditto Depp for best actor (albeit neck-and-bloody-neck with Day-Lewis), and Bonham Carter is a revelation. It will never win over Broadway-original purists, Sondheim haters and the pruriently squeamish. Well, many Japanese-original purists, genre-pic haters and pruriently squeamish folk were skeptical of "The Departed's" chances last year. Given the high ratio of favorable reviews from the hinterlands and certainly the energetic reaction from teens, collegiate Goths and grindhouse types at last night's midnight screening at the Grove, it's poised to do bloody boffo box office, and if it takes the musical/comedy Globe, it's a surefire best picture contender.

Honestly, 87% is nothing to brag about. What's the point of this article? To remind us all that the critics like "Sweeny Todd"? Come on, "No Country for Old Men" has 95% at Rottentomatoes, and even Enchanted has a 93%. As far as critics loving it, they sure don't love it nearly as much as some other films.

Tom, I am sorry, but I don't think we watched the same film. The film is not that great. It sure as hell is not winning best picture...


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