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Movie Review

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

MPAA Rating: R for graphic bloody violence

Reviewed by: Misty Wagner
CONTRIBUTOR

Extremely Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens, Adults
Genre:
Musical, Thriller, Drama, Adaptation
Length:
1 hr. 57 min.
Year of Release:
2007
USA Release:
December 21, 2007 (1,000 theaters), then wider January 11, 2008
Copyright, DreamWorks
Copyright, DreamWorks
Copyright, DreamWorks
Copyright, DreamWorks
Copyright, DreamWorks
Copyright, DreamWorks
Copyright, DreamWorks
Copyright, DreamWorks
Copyright, DreamWorks
Copyright, DreamWorks
Relevant Issues
Copyright, DreamWorks

Murder in the Bible

How does viewing violence in movies affect the family? Answer

Forgiveness of sin

Featuring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jamie Campbell Bowen, Jayne Wisener, Laura Michelle Kelly, Ed Sanders
Director: Tim Burton
Producer: Patrick McCormick, Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes
Distributor: DreamWorks

“Never forget. Never forgive.”

Being someone who is unfamiliar with the story of Sweeney Todd, but a lover of musicals and Broadway shows, I found myself immediately drawn to this film. I deluded myself into thinking that I understood the plot line from the trailers I’d seen and considered myself an educated audience member… I was wrong.

I wanted to love this movie, from the beginning. With a rich cast and so much talent oozing from every creative roll, I believed I would love this movie.

Sweeney Todd (at least the film’s version of this age old tale) is the story about a man consumed by hatred and a blinding desire for revenge. If ever a story confirmed that vengeance is blind, this is that story. Fifteen years before the film’s first haunting and shadowing scenes, Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) was a happy man, in love with his wife Lucy and busy adoring his baby girl Johanna. He was a successful barber, and apparently had no reasons to be unhappy. However, because of a powerful judge’s (Alan Rickman) lustful obsession for Barker’s wife, he was falsely imprisoned and the judge moved in on Lucy. The details, from that point are a mystery to Benjamin Barker who has pronounced his former self dead and now goes by the name Sweeney Todd.

Sweeney Todd returns to his former home on Fleet street and is greeted by the bizarre and eccentric Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter). Though the film never implies that he has any recollection of who she is, she is quite vocal about knowing his wife Lucy as well as carrying romantic feelings for Barker, who is now Todd. She fills him in on the details which have occurred in his absence, as well as informs him of his wife’s suicide, and that Judge Turpin now has custody of Johanna and holds her prisoner in his home until she is of age to be his…

From a worldly standpoint, this man would have every reason imaginable to seek revenge. Not only were horrible things done to him, but what his daughter and wife had to endure at the hands of the judge would be more than most fathers or husbands could bear. It is easy to sympathize with the desolate place his soul lives…

And yet- (for those who aren’t familiar with this story, there ARE SPOILERS AHEAD)

Mrs. Lovett has a meat pie restaurant below Sweeney Todd’s barber shop. The two collaborate to help one another. Todd begins taking his hatred out on unsuspecting clients by slitting their throats, and Mrs. Lovett begins grinding the meat and baking them into her pies…

There is so much to be offended by, in this film, that listing it all would be nearly impossible. There are scenes of child abuse; a young boy (Toby) is given Gin… The murder scenes, though not done with realistic effects at all, are still quite gory and disturbing. Judge Turpin is a horrible man and his cruelty is seen at various times throughout the film. Though profanity is mild (I believe I heard three instances), much of their dialogue is not any less inappropriate.

The most touching scene is a musical interaction between Mrs. Lovett and Toby. It was heart warming and beautiful, but sadly becomes less powerful due to the immediate scenes which follow.

Tim Burton is a true artist. Though his films always carry a depth of darkness, they are made flawlessly beautiful. This is no exception. There is no way that a story of these details could not be grim and gory. It is its nature… The musical pieces, though sometimes dark in lyric, do bring about a sense of balance. The performances of the cast are beyond incredible, and, although the story itself isn’t a favorite for me, I can’t imagine that the live Broadway experience could be any better than this.

In the end we do become aware that this story does not exist to glorify revenge. No one wins here. There is no form of redemption in the lives of these characters, and perhaps therein is where the redemption truly lay. To see, grotesquely there before you, that vengeance won’t take your pain away is a pretty powerful moment in deed.

Violence: Extreme / Profanity: Mild / Sex/Nudity: Minor

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer Comments
Comments available:
Positive
Positive—…I really did enjoy this movie. The characterizations are very intense and the music is incredible. While many will find it offensive, it shows very vividly how the need for vengeance can eat away at a soul and leave one totally empty.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Vicki Corlett, age 41
Positive—This is one of the best films I’ve seen on the big screen since “Dick Tracy,” which oddly enough, had Sondheim tunes. I saw the Lansbury stage show on video years ago and was hooked on this show. This movie had a great cast and the singing and music was right on. I have to agree that this is an excellent example of how you can’t take vengeance as no one really wins. It is very refreshing to see a movie that isn’t obsessed with sex. The movie has little in the way of sexual content and just some mild profanity during a few of the songs. And the R-Rating is deserved for the massive amounts of blood you will see. Despite the great songs and moments of comedy, this is not a movie a child under 13 should see.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Brian Wolters, age 37
Positive—I saw “Sweeney Todd” yesterday afternoon with some of my friends, and we all enjoyed it very much. (We are all also avid Broadway lovers and were very familiar with the story, script, and songs.) While I couldn’t personally watch the murder scenes because I am a little squeamish, my friends seemed to think they were funny rather than scary. So I can’t vouch there, but it’s still not something I would bring a child to see.

Otherwise, the movie does NOT glorify revenge, but rather shows how consuming it can be and how it affects an individual. It also downs evil in many ways, such as the negative and often uncomfortable scenes with Judge Turpin. I have seen far more offensive garbage in my Christian-oriented college classroom, so I wouldn’t call this “extremely offensive,” but still not perfect.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Amber, age 18
Positive—If Johnny Depp doesn’t get the Oscar for his electrifying performance as Sweeney Todd, then it will confirm one thing: that the movie star academy has a vendetta against him. He was both mesmerizing and menacing in Tim Burton’s gruesome and gory adaptation of Sondheim’s musical. Depp’s singing was also superb. If he based his character Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean” on Keith Richards, then he must have pitched his singing voice to reflect David Bowie’s skills.

The whole movie was incredible. As usual, Burton skillfully mixed the macabre with the wonderfully weird. The whole cinematic atmosphere was like “Sin City” meets “Oliver!” and it worked beautifully. Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett was the perfect partner to Depp’s Todd. She oozed malice in a gorgeous way. The seaside scene from the musical, in the midst of all the blood and gore, was a hilarious relief. Both Depp and Carter were like Frankenstein creations. Their make up made them look like menacing mannequins, brought to life by the evil of the times.

Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall were so ugly in the movie that the audience cheered when their throats were splayed open and a fountain of blood gushed forth. Tim Burton definitely did not hold back on the special effects. The slitting of throats was so severe that I had to look away from the screen several times.

In the end the movie leaves you with that “wow” experience. You know that you’ve been to a great theatrical and cinematic experience. If Sweeney misses out on snapping up most of the Oscars, then Hollywood needs to have its own critical throat cut. “Sweeney Todd” is more than just a movie: it’s destined to become a cultural classic.

Although I wouldn’t heartily recommend this movie to every Christian, I think that it has practical applications that could be discussed by mature Christians. Evil does not triumph, and the sickness of vengeful souls is never healed. Murder is not glorified, and violence is not excused or justified. Love and loneliness are shown to be powerful feelings that can corrupt the human soul. If ever there was a movie made about the empty road to perdition, this is it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—John Stuart, age 50
Positive—I went into this movie after reading the review on this Web site—I knew what to expect. I like Tim Burton and I love musicals so I was interested in seeing it with my husband and a friend. First of all, this movie is rated R for a reason—it is gory and depicts murder many times. I don’t like gore so I turned away for all of the murder scenes except for 2 that snuck up on me. From the look on my husband and friend’s faces, it was pretty bloody. We expected more “Kill Bill” type gore which doesn’t really bother me because it’s meant to be fake but my husband said this looked pretty real—the two I saw looked as real as they could without actually killing someone.

Besides that, the plot itself is pretty detestable… eating people and murder and revenge. However, it does not glorify these things—it shows what happens to someone who is consumed with it. Sweeney is an absolutely deplorable man with no signs of compassion or redemption. He is not rewarded for his attitude—in the end, I would say he gets what he deserves. The film itself is beautifully dark and so well-executed. The music is masterful. I truly enjoyed watching it and figuring out the nuance of color and black and white. As long as you know what to expect and you are not easily disturbed by cannibalism and murder, you can enjoy this movie for it’s clear moral message—revenge is not sweet and it does not satisfy.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Kirsten, age 21
Positive—I chose the “offensive” rating simply because this is not a movie that one should bring the whole family to view! It’s rated R for a reason. I question how the original viewer could consider him or herself to be a lover of Broadway musicals and not be familiar with “Sweeney Todd.” This musical has been around since the early 1980’s, and Sondheim, while his work is very dark, is one of musical theatre’s most popular composers! From a Christian standpoint, I felt that this film was a powerful lesson on forgiveness, simply because Todd’s character is the antithesis of forgiveness. As he walked off the ship and stepped back into London, he was already bitter and angry. And I thought about different places where I’ve been wronged—it was chilling to think that my own (at times!) unforgiving attitude carried elements of Sweeney Todd’s. How would I respond if I were to physically go back? Would feelings of bitterness and hate consume me? This film was an exaggerated story of what unforgiveness can do to a person.

Jesus Himself told us to forgive or we would not be forgiven. An extremely powerful and sobering statement. Perhaps He knew something about the effect that NOT forgiving others will have on a person. I would almost go so far as to call this film a prophetic glance into what really sits in our hearts when we refuse to forgive others. Yes, it’s ugly and grisly. So are our hearts. As Sweeney sings, “We all deserve to die…” And isn’t that why Jesus came?

Again, don’t bring the kids. But I would encourage any adult Christian to see this movie, to take a look at areas of unforgiveness still lurking in your heart, and keep yourself from becoming a “Sweeney Todd.”
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Leanne, age 31
Neutral
Neutral—I walked out of this film with mixed emotions because on one hand, there is so much to love about it as a cinematic work of art. The costume design, the gothic atmosphere it created, the amazing acting and the wonderful music are all absolutely astounding, and Tim Burton has produced what may be his finest film to date. But on the other, it makes me uncomfortable to openly enjoy a movie about a deranged serial killer who takes out his rage on unsuspecting and innocent (well, except for two of them) victims. The nature of the gore is unsettling and yet not so memorable as the dramatic conclusion that paints a vivid depiction of the truth behind “the wages of sin is death.”

In the end, I think that it is a film that can be enjoyed only by serious theater lovers or fans of the original musical (which is, for the most part, relatively intact minus the trimming of one or two songs and chorus'). It is not something I would recommend to someone on the street, but at the same time it powerfully illustrates the darkness of a soul steeped in evil. Todd is a soulless man; I have never seen a character so devoid of anything that is good. There is never even a glimmer of compassion in him (as evidenced by his state of mind—“We all deserve to die, even you, Mrs. Lovett, even I!”—and the manner in which he dispatches those closest to him), and that frightening glimpse of a life given over to evil is a shocking departure from the norm. Still, I wish it had not come with quite so gruesome depictions of death, because apart from the frequent blood spatter, it does leave its audience with a lot of serious topics to think about.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
Charity Bishop, age 24
Neutral—With the words “The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” as part of its ominous title, no Christian should be caught unawares as to the foreboding nature of this Broadway Musical film adaptation. Buyer, beware! I appreciated this picture like a guilty pleasure, that said. It stands alongside “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” as the TOP TWO FINEST cinematic translations of live theatrical GRAND GUIGNOL ever committed to celluloid. A brief description follows. Before monster movies, people used to flock the STAGE for a fright. In France, around the early 20th Century, Le Grand Guignol was THE arena where audiences got to see an effects-driven story, usually involving elements of horror.

These French tales of terror were, often, morality plays. Common subject matters included odes to the dueling natures of God and Satan, or to the ongoing battles between good and evil men. Today’s audiences that see this latest Tim Burton masterstroke are forewarned—YOU WILL BE REVOLTED. At the same time, the story is not “shock schlock.” Watching Johnny Depp's gruesome character evolve from victim to victimizer will invariably generate post-viewing conversations. Ensuing discussions will bear likeness to topics of conversation that Grand Guignol used to initiate. Foremost amongst the spiritual themes—Man’s Inhumanity To Man. There arises a moment in this story for the central characters to begin life anew, an opportunity for them to put an end to their sinful preoccupations. The macabre elements of the story keep building to a tragic conclusion. God is never consulted before the train wreck!

As a Pastor I know recently said, “We know how it all ends. We win.” Evil does NOT triumph in this musical. Evil is exposed as an all-consuming fire. A fire that threatens even the most virtuous of persons. The Bible is clear: EVIL DOES NOT WORK AGAINST ITSELF. You cannot fight fire with fire. Bring this theme with you to see the movie and you will enjoy it all the more. Given THIS source material’s roots, “Sweeney Todd” is the purest example in the modern era of a cherished genre from by-gone days.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Arthur Salazar, age 42
Negative
Negative—I must say—I found this movie—almost laughable. While the story itself has the basis for an amazing movie… I could not get past the silliness to the point of almost boring singing. I wanted this movie to be good—and I just kept shaking my head through the whole thing. And if I heard one more song drone on… UGH. (And I am a big musical fan.) The characters were good… the scenery good… the story good. While there was no nudity in this film—there were plenty of cleavage shots… to the point where—you had nowhere else to look, after the first few closeups—ok we get the point—breasts popping out of dresses… enough. Blood and gore? It was so obviously fake—that it took away from the actual hideousness of what was being done. I don’t know—but I was disappointed and kept hoping for something more, something better. This was little more than a cartoon with singing.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 2½
—DJ, age 40
Negative—“Sweeny Todd” is NOT recommended for children. This movie contains a lot of gore and and is supposed to be funny. It is important to realize that murdering someone is not funny and this movie, and the musical as well, were made to be funny. As I finished the movie, my mind was filled with images I wish I never saw.
The actors are great actors and God gave them a great gift, however; the script and the subject matter are offensive.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Christopher Doran, age 17
Comments from young people
Positive—“Sweeney Todd” is a truly dark and disturbing film, but a masterpiece none the less. There is a rape scene “mostly off screen,” about two s-words, a child drinks gin, but you can’t deny history as workhouse boys drank a lot; the violence is extreme, and very bloody, most of it does have to do with the story line, but may still bother many. If you don’t mind seeing a truly stunning depiction of the depravity of the world, and the uselessness of revenge, then this is for you. I recommend age 15 and up.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Michael, age 17 (USA)
Positive—First off, I’d like to start by saying how beautifully this movie was done, you could expect nothing less from Tim Burton, a genius in movie making. This is by far one of my favorite movies. The actors/actresses play their roles perfectly, and the singing is very well done as well. This came as a surprise because Depp and Carter haven’t had singing roles in the past, so with that said, they did fantastic. The costumes and setting display nothing short of Burton’s talent. The dark and dreary streets of London perfectly fit with the story. Like the other comments said, this movie is extremely graphic. Throats are slit, heads are beaten in, and bodies fall about 20 feet to a bone-breaking stop. A few times when we see the bodies drop through Todd’s chute we see their heads split and some blood squirt out. This movie, as said before, displays perfectly how revenge and vengeance can eat away a man’s soul. In the movie Depp sings, 'I will have vengeance, I will have salvation.' Indeed he does, but at a very great cost. Great movie, great acting/singing, gorgeous scenery, a pretty good message hidden somewhere in all that blood. The only thing I disagree with in the original review, is that this movie is NOT intended for just teens and adults. I would say very mature teens and adults, as this is an R-rated film.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Zack, age 17
Positive—How good was this movie? How many musicals have you ever walked out of going 'That was kick… butt.'? That’s how good this movie was!! Tim Burton is aMaZiNg and this film is no different then his others! I try to find problems with it and… nothing, I cannot find a single thing wrong with it! I loved it!! But we warned, this is one BLOODY movie! Lots of people get their throats slit with VERY bloody results!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Joshua, age 14
Positive—Before going to see “Sweeney Todd,” I checked out this review, among others. All reviews made it out to be the goriest, bloodiest thing ever. So I went to see it with expectations of being grossed out. I wasn’t. This movie is indeed very bloody, but all the blood looks fake and the way the blood comes out of the victims looks fake. Mostly, they have blood spurting out of the victim’s neck in gallons, once even hitting the screen. It wasn’t realistic at all, it looked more like something you might see in a haunted house at Halloween time. But that’s how Tim Burton intended it. I found the murders quite funny, not gross. The first murder doesn’t even occur until you get 30-45 minutes into the movie, so if you go see it and stress over the bloody moments, you have a while to relax before they start happening.

From a movie-making stand point, I think this might possibly be Tim Burton's greatest movie. The singing is great, and the acting is superb. Tim Burton is also known for his artistic cinematography, and “Sweeney Todd” is no different. It was beautifully shot. I have to applaud Mr. Burton. He knew he would get an R-rating with all the blood, and, knowing that, he could’ve put a bunch of other stuff in the movie (offensive language, sexual content, etc.) but he didn’t. This movie, honestly, is R-rated strictly based on the bloodiness, which, like I said, looks totally fake. Even with the violence, it all balances out with the singing and other things that occur. The movie is about 2 hours long, and MAYBE 10-20 minutes is bloodiness. Congrats, Mr. Burton, yet another one of your amazing movies that will make its way into my DVD collection.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Krystal, age 17
NeutralTim Burton, a cinematic genius who makes beautiful movies, even though they may be a little different? …yes, and that is putting it lightly. While in this case it is an incredibly bloody masterpiece, this movie is made so well from the far corners of its dark settings, to makeup, singing, meat pies, imaginative beach scenes, and ending morals.

I went with a lot of friends to see “Sweeney Todd,” which we had been waiting for since we heard about it being made 2 years ago! Through the whole movie, I was either on the edge of my seat or under my friend’s arm covering my eyes at the killer parts, and people around me were probably annoyed of all the singing I did! I was even surprised that it had some funny parts in it, too. But after all the killings, which there were a lot, and they were shown, the ending brought me to tears…, but showed how revenge never wins in the end for ANYONE, and the judge never got what he wanted either. The only part of the ending in the movie that was happy was for Toby, Antony and Johanna which they deserved. So if you have a problem with the blood and violence, just look away or wait until it is out on DVD, but this is definitely a must see!!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Liz, age 16
Positive—This movie was a cinematic masterpice! The filmmaking and cinematogrophy were poetic and beutiful throughout the film. Tim Burton is one of my favorite directors and this is by far his best film. It has amazing visuals and music. It is easy to get involved in the plot, after you get past hte darkness (both in themes and color). It has a great moral, to come out of Hollywood, evil destroys everything it touches even the innocent. Be forewarned it does contain very mature subject matter and some scenes that may be quite disturbing to some viewers, including graphic violence, rape, child abuse, revenge, murder, and cannibalism, not for the easily offeneded or those with weak stomachs, but for eveyone else well worth the 8 dollars.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Tyler Proctor, age 15
Neutral—“Sweeney Todd” was an amazingly created masterpiece that will be loved greatly by future generations. Obviously, there is very much violence and should not be viewed by people younger than 15 or with very immature knowledge. ***SPOILER*** There is one spot in the story where a woman is raped at a party; I found this part highly offensive, although nothing was shown. Overall, this was an amazing production, and I will very much be seeing it again. I do not suggest parents allow their children to watch this without the parent viewing beforehand.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Ladybug Francis Ritter, age 15
Positive—Although a secular film, based upon revenge, murder and loss, “Sweeney Todd” is the greastest, most enjoyable movie I have ever seen!!! The music and emotions portrayed were brilliant, and so vivid that a blind man would have seen the emotion on Depp’s face at the loss of his loved ones. All in all, my favourite movie, worth a thousand views and repetitive listening to the soundtrack. From a biblical perspective, however, this movie isn’t brilliant—utilising murder and revenge as the main story makers in this film. With some occasional coarse language and moderately frequent blood sprays, the movie is what I would not intend for the “light hearted.”
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Brendan, age 15, Australia