The Sweeney (MA15+) 2 stars
Ray Winstone, Ben Drew, Damian Lewis, Hayley Atwell
DIRECTOR: NICK LOVE
REVIEW: SHANNON HARVEY
You’ll like this if you liked the TV series The Sweeney, Edge of Darkness and Life on Mars, Snatch, RocknRolla, 44 Inch Chest, Get Carter, The Bank Job, Layer Cake
If you were a fan of the UK cop show The Sweeney, you may want to tell this long-awaited, big-screen adaptation to “get nicked”.
Now there’s nothing wrong with movies about tough old-school cops who bend the rules to get the job done. It’s the territory ruled by the likes of Dirty Harry and Popeye Doyle. Likewise, the members of London’s elite Sweeney Flying Squad prefer baseball bats to reading rights.
But setting this quintessential 1970s cop show in modern-day London — then adding flashy modern filming techniques — robs The Sweeney of a retro 70s charm that could have been its best asset.
Still, this ironically out-of-date update does come with one reliably good geezer — Ray Winstone — in John Thaw’s role as Jack Regan, the portly plainclothes boss of London’s elite Flying Squad (“Sweeney Todd” is cockney rhyming slang for “Flying Squad,” hence “The Sweeney”). Ben Drew (aka rapper Plan B) is in Dennis Waterman’s role as Regan’s young and able sidekick.
After an opening scene raid, the Sweeney’s bash-and-crash tactics come under fire from the department head (Damian Lewis) and an internal affairs chap (Steven Mackintosh). It doesn’t help that the chap’s wife (Hayley Atwell) has fallen for Regan’s brutish charms.
Judi Dench once described James Bond as “a misogynist, sexist dinosaur,” and that’s certainly apt for Winstone’s Regan. He likes to use his size 12 boots and the catchphrase “You’re nicked”. But do these cops even exist anymore? Haven’t times changed since the 1970s? Is the world much more PC now?
Writer John Hodge (Trainspotting, The Beach) rightly tries to focus on the PC brigade’s scrutiny of the Sweeney’s now-primitive tactics. It’s an obvious plot for a 1970s series set in 2013. But that juxtaposition is clearly lost on director Nick Love, who shows no measure of subtlety and simply thinks The Sweeney will work as a modern action flick full of bashings, beatings, rogerings and car chases.
He also uses flashy techniques such as fast zooms and quick edits to make the film seem to move far more briskly than it actually does.
Speaking of brisk, Love replaces the show’s Ford Cortina with a hot Ford Focus hatch and makes it chase plenty of slags in Jags on the blag, as if trying to replicate the show’s ahead-of-their-time action sequences.
Instead, the chases here seem 40 years old. The climactic chase, for instance, was shot in an abandoned caravan park and sees two cars crash through empty caravans as if it were the height of action filmmaking. No wonder the lads from Top Gear parodied the sequence using a new Jag.
That said, if you’re partial to seeing bent cops put the boot into crims and car chases that go on too long, then The Sweeney is for you. All three of you. It’s a dreadfully anachronistic throwback and a pure macho male fantasy that just doesn’t work.
The Sweeney opens today.