The return of The Sweeney

An inventively shot reinterpretation of the iconic TV show The Sweeney is let down by some odd creative decisions
Can we believe the behaviour exhibited by the Flying Squad in this film would really be allowed to happen? They operate using much the same tactics as the criminals they are pursuing and will go on a raid armed with baseball bats. While such operational methods may have had some basis in truth in the 1970s it highly unlikely they do now. Just as unlikely, in fact, as the squad operating out of a high rise swish modern office block. If you want to be ready to react to crimes, does it make any sense to be about ten floors above ground and have to wait for a lift before going out to pummel drug dealers? Nick Love’s big screen version of The Sweeney is full of such anomalies. A lot of it does not ring true- so why is it so watchable?

Perhaps the least convincing aspect is the idea of Ray Winstone fighting crime. Someone like him- certainly in terms of age and definitely considering his methods -would surely have been retired years back. Winstone varies little from his recent appearances; his Regan is all gruff self belief and defiance. “You’re a dinosaur” some tells him and that is the case; he is a plodding Tyrannosaurus roaring as much at his boss as he does at the bad guys. Ben Drew is the new Carter with a baby face and a tendency to talk as if he’d rather rap his lines as he does in his other job. They seem a mismatched team, conceptually and as actors. Their boss is Damian Lewis from Homeland, an English actor whose London accent is worse than the American one he usually uses! His job is to look vexed, purse his lips and threaten Regan with suspension if he crosses the line.
It’s not really fair to blame the actors because anyone would surely struggle with Love and co-writer John Hodge’s awkward script and cranky dialogue. From the clich├ęd touch guy act Winstone is asked to produce to the sneering one note villains, nothing sparks – Drew in particular looks embarrassed with some of the things he has to say. A moment when the two are supposed to bond in the middle of adversity is painful to watch.
Ray was the best at silly walks
It’s a shame because when it comes to the staging, The Sweeney really flies. With some fantastic mixed genre music spilling around, the action scenes are some hairpin bend sharp. We race through country lanes, round a motor home camp and most impressively run in and out of Trafalgar Square. The latter sequence is director Nick Love’s trump card; an urgent, ricochet filled, danger laden chase that is amongst the best seen this year in any film. The violence is sharply edited and as in your face as it can be. It’s not a 3D movie, but Love’s cameras make it seem like it is. There’s a blue -grey hue to the cinematography that helps the mood; be warned there are no real laughs to be had here!
The links to the original series are slight though there’s a neat slo mo re-working of the iconic title music at the start (and a great new version at the end too) and a sprinkling of those old expressions that probably nobody in the police uses in 2012 like “you slaaag”. Oh and there’s a nod to Winstone’s early career high Scum in a sequence when Regan finds himself in prison though this is yet another unlikely development
The result is a two speed film. Whenever the dialogue scenes play the un-natural pauses, stilted phrases and one dimensional attempts at character work (Carter’s history is delivered in one wordy exposition) make it hard work. Yet as soon as the action cranks up you are on the edge of your seat.

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