Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was a film I expected to hate. While Gerard Butler’s acting makes the last twenty minutes of Phantom of the Opera an incredible emotional journey, it depresses me enormously that only the odd singer such as Samantha Barks or Catherine Zeta-Jones manages to get a good role in a movie musical. The priority is on fine-tuned acting ability, and directors tend to completely ignore slight complications like Hugh Jackman’s incredibly nasal vibrato and Russell Crowe’s complete inability to sing. Nevertheless, I gave Sweeney a try, and was pleasantly surprised.
Don’t get me wrong, Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayal of Mrs Lovett is dreadful, lacking any emotion in her singing voice, and completely devoid of comic timing. Nevertheless, persevering through the bizarre CGI opening credit sequence is well worth the wait. Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Sweeney is bang on what it should be. He can switch instantaneously from light-hearted and comical to the dark and self-destructive soul that Sweeney is. This is a role that requires an actor to portray killing another human being with a whole spectrum of emotions, from casual carelessness through desperate swiftness to apocalyptic anger. Depp executes each with ease or gusto as required. In his portrayal Sweeney’s paradoxical and deeply tragic combination of defeatism and grim determination comes across beautifully and heart-wrenchingly: the consummate murderer, his soul so crushed by the events of his past that he lacks the willpower to save his daughter from his nemesis’ clutches, yet gripped by an insatiable bloodlust.
It is true that Michael Ball sang the part better, but Depp does a good job for a man who doesn’t normally sing, and had the camera focussed on him and his expressions throughout the entire film, it would hardly have been less engaging. A shame that the same cannot be said for Bonham Carter, but this film is worth her inadequacy to see Depp at his best.