There has been no lack of well-made movie musicals this year—from the '60s-era Hairspray and Across the Universe to the Irish folk vehicle Once. But Sweeney Todd is another monster entirely. At a time of year when costume dramas and flashy stage-to-screen epics (like last year's Dreamgirls) make holiday audiences smile and swoon, something like Sweeney is an absolute anomaly. That's because it's a film about a psychotic, murderous barber (Johnny Depp) and his cannibalistic baker accomplice (Helena Bonham Carter). In a season of "goodwill toward all," Sweeney revels in the dog-eat-dog (or, more apropos to this film, man-eat-man) ugliness of human nature.
Based on the popular, offbeat musical by Stephen Sondheim (which opened on Broadway in 1979 and won eight Tony Awards that year), Sweeney spins a grisly tale of barbers and barbarism in Victorian-era London. The film opens as one Sweeney Todd (aka Benjamin Barker)—a world-weary, white-faced, smoky-eyed stranger—sails into London with an ax to grind and a razor to sharpen. In his former life he was a happy barber with a beautiful wife and baby daughter, until one unfortunate day when it was all taken away by the evil Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman). Falsely imprisoned for some fifteen years, Barker emerges from prison as Sweeney Todd, a schizophrenic alter ego with a one-track mind for revenge. Turpin has captured Todd's now-teenage daughter Johanna (played by the buxom Jayne Wisener), and Todd is determined to make him pay.
Unfortunately for the citizens of London, however (or at least those in need of a shave), Todd's singular pursuit of a dead Turpin quickly degenerates into an indiscriminate killing spree in which any and all patrons of Todd's barbershop ...1