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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."


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."