Today: February 29, 2024

The Sweeney

Imagine how this one was pitched.

Imagine how this one was
pitched
.

Professional hard geezer Ray
Winstone
is no-nonsense, old-school copper Regan. Rapper and spokesman for Broken Britain Plan B (Ben Drew) is his tough but inexperienced sidekick
Carter. They get to tear around
London in fast cars, tooled up with shooters, dishing out justice and spitting
lines like: “Put your trousers on, you’re nicked.”

It can’t fail.

Mention The Sweeney to a British man of a certain vintage and
he’ll likely reel off that or one of the other catchphrases (“You’re nicked,
you slaaaaag,” in a comedy Cockernee accent would also be perfectly acceptable)
that gives the 1970s TV police procedural a particular place in popular British
nostalgia.

For the retro-kitsch crowd, The Sweeney represents those happy
days when a man could drink and smoke with impunity, drive outsized motors like
the seas would never rise and a woman knew her place was wherever she was told.

For all that The Sweeney was
a solid cop show – among the first on British TV to show police as cynical,
fallible humans; people who bend, not break the rules to get the job done.
There were no grey areas – the good guys were DI Jack Regan and DS George Carter;
the rest were villains, there to be nicked.

But numerous parodies and homages to The Sweeney over all the years that have since passed means that
director Nick Love (The Firm, The Business) couldn’t
plausibly go the way of the beige-hued, period remake so, instead, here’s a
contemporary take on uncontrolled policing in the style of Michael Mann.

Up front, veteran geezer Ray Winstone mines a career full of hard
men to make Regan a raging ball-sack of machismo; new geezer Ben Drew
tries for early, Scum-era Winstone but is no more than his own thug in Harry
Brown
with a career path. The plot, should it be a clincher, involves
some violent robberies viewed by Regan on CCTV repeats like fetishised snuff
flicks and an old nemesis who emerges from his predictable back-story. It’s a
frame for Winstone and Drew to strut around cracking skulls in dive bars,
switching off interview tapes for a bit of dry-slapping and dangling grasses by
their ankles off tower blocks, all in the name of justice.

In 2012, The Sweeney has plenty of grey areas.

As an aside, Steven Mackintosh’s compliance copper Lewis is determined
to purge the force of old-school coppers and their ‘as long as it gets the job
done’ tactics. He’s the anti-Regan, a man who says ‘community’ where Regan says
‘slags’. And on that note, Lewis’s wife (Hayley Atwell) is both on
Regan’s team and on her back in his bed. When not a-cuckolding, Winstone
is permanently furious. Drew tries to lighten the tone but is less expressive –
director Love’s favourite leading man Danny Dyer would have been a more
charismatic, and convincing, Carter. Fresh from Homeland, Damien Lewis
as Regan’s ‘by-the-book’ boss strides around like he’s got something up him.
With his Cockney accent slipping more often than his American ever did, Lewis
looks like he thought there’d be better stuff coming his way.

On what looks like a far bigger budget than he’s had previously, Love
tries and, for the most part, succeeds in making London look as swish as Miami.
Helicopters swoop around Dockland skyscrapers. Everyone lives in minimalist flats. They work in glistening offices. And they are all proper tooled right
up. But limitations show in the big set piece action sequence, a
prolonged shootout between the Sweeney and the stick-up gang in Trafalgar
Square and the National Gallery. With its crooks in
masks and running gun battles with automatic weapons, it owes rather a large
debt to Michael Mann’s Heat but it’s not in the same league. Obviously filmed early on a Sunday
morning, the only time central London is as empty as is shown, the scattering
of extras just emphasises the space between them. And they are spaces every bit
as large as those between the belief that this film was a good idea, and the
reality, which is that it’s dreadful trash that reflects badly on everyone
involved.

But it is kinda fun. And
Ray Winstone gets to say: “Put your trousers on, you’re nicked.” And that’s all
that matters.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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