So much misanthropy at the Christmas time! What's happening? A couple of weeks back it was No Country for Old Men. Now it is Sweeney Todd and next week it is There Will be Blood! I did see the first two and liked both of them, though with a few reservations. The nihilism and bleakness of No Country for Old Men was a little two smartass to be really horrifying. On top of that their condescending attitude to their characters in the "funny" scenes really put me off.
Sweeny Todd is much more enjoyable in comparison. It doesn't have any of those pretentious voice-overs about evil in the world (I am sure it must have worked in Cormac McCarthy's book which I have not read but in the film it comes off as very pretentious). Instead there is just good old misanthropy, plain and simple. Watching it I was thinking about the parallels to Brecht and Weill's Threepenny Opera with which it shares the overall tone. Obviously it suffers when you start comparing. Jim Hoberman in his review also points to the parallels:
"Staged as though to encompass the entire Industrial Revolution, Sondheim's discordant and lyrical Sweeney Todd was a metaphor in search of its meaning—was it a work of social protest or a revenge tragedy? A study of abnormal pathology or a joke played upon the audience?
Burton's expertly trimmed adaptation tilts decisively toward the last possibility. He solves the problem, in part, by ignoring the play's various subtexts. The original ending is softened, albeit without diluting Sondheim's dark humor. No Greek tragedy, this Hollywood Sweeney is a fun creepy-crawly."
The film fails to exploit both the tragic potential of the characters and also the socio-political context. Bereft of these, the film just remains a very quirky and macabre entertainment. Still a good entertainment for the Christmas time.