Come with me to the 1970s, folks. Back to the hard justice of UK crime telly. Back to a time when The Professionals protected Britain from threats internal and external and when The Sweeney went after London’s toughest criminals. Let us return to an era when Martin Shaw, Lewis Collins, John Thaw and Dennis Waterman played hard-bitten law enforcers who chased villains in their Ford Consuls, Granadas, Cortinas and Escorts.
For some Baby Boomers and older Gen X-ers, this kind of telly is remembered with great nostalgia. So much so, that it has lead to pale imitations like LIFE ON MARS. Philip Glenister’s portrayal of Gene Hunt is spot on, but the rest of ‘em? Meh.
So why am I going on and on about some old Brit TV series most of you never saw and don’t give a monkey’s about? Because THE SWEENEY has been remade for the 21st century and I’m struggling to work out why.
The title refers to the rhyming slang Sweeny Todd which stands for Flying Squad. This refers not to actual flight but to the speed and ferocity at which the squad could respond to armed robbery and violent crime. Back in ‘70s Ian Kennedy Martin created his idea of THE SWEENEY based on the activities of the actual Flying Squad. His TV version were more upstanding than their real life counterparts, who were eventually investigated for their methods and alleged criminal connections.
Interestingly, the remake gives some of this moral laxness to Jack Regan (Winstone) the veteran cop who heads the squad. At times, this gives the movie an air of TRAINING DAY, although ultimately Winstone’s Regan also shares a number of traits with Harrelson’s rogue cop in RAMPART. His sidekick, George Carter is played by actor-musician Ben Drew (Plan B). Carter is an adrenaline junkie who was raised in tough circumstances on an estate, but has turned his life around. He isn’t on the take and his integrity balances out Regan’s questionable ethics.
The Sweeney are dealing with a Serbian gang who have killed a bystander during a robbery. At the very same time, they are also under investigation from Internal Affairs. These are the two major plot strands: will The Sweeney bring the gang to justice and will the squad, and more particularly Regan, emerge unscathed from the internal investigation?
The script is by the film’s director Nick Love and screenwriter John Hodge. Love is known for films like THE FOOTBALL FACTORY (2004), THE BUSINESS (2005) and OUTLAW (2007); movies that have performed strongly in the UK lads’ market. Hodge is known for SHALLOW GRAVE (1994), TRAINSPOTTING (1996) and THE BEACH (2000). This combination have fashioned a tale that lacks coherence and believability. The Internal Affairs man (Steven Mackintosh) is also married to a member of the Flying Squad. Most people would call this a conflict of interest. The Flying Squad coppers have an aversion to calling for back up and run into almost every situation with inferior numbers and firepower and with no thought to their own safety, nor that of the public.
The images have a chilly blue or green hue and depict shagging or violence with equal detachment. The action is adequately staged. The hand to hand combat has a certain thuggish power. There is a frustrating amount of gunplay in which the bad guys have semi-automatic weapons and the good guys have handguns. The car chases are stock standard, yet exciting enough.
Winstone has great screen presence, but Regan is not his finest creation. Ben Drew is strong and unflashy in the role of Carter. Damian Lewis, usually a very watchable actor, disappears into the background as the desk-bound head of the squad, Haskins. Hayley Atwell, who played Peggy Carter in CAPTAIN AMERICA is DC Nancy Lewis. Her role is faintly ridiculous; she is the squad member married to the Internal Affairs man, yet she brings it off with panache.
No doubt the movie’s number 1 position in the UK Box Office justified its reboot to its backers and producers. There was a quid to be made. However, it seems to me that only an audience that doesn’t know the original can truly enjoy this. Calling it THE SWEENEY invites comparisons to the superior original. The movie is for a young audience that wants continual bludgeoning action above all else.
THE SWEENEY is screening currently in Australia. It runs for 112 minutes. I rated it 5/10.