The Sweeney

In this age of recycling the film industry is often held up as the major player in re using ideas for financial gain instead of promoting new and fresh ideas that may not have a major monetary recompense for the investors. You only have to look at the major studio films released this year to see the trend. Lots of twos, threes, fours and fives floating about in the multiplex. Add in to this reboots and re-interpretations of previous products making the cinema going experience a samey and dull experience sometimes.  So into this market place comes the new version of The Sweeney.  In the nineteen seventies the TV show The Sweeney heralded a new type of Police drama. Before it the British Police procedurals  showed the officers of the law as the good guys. There was no grey area. There were cops and villains and little in between.  The Sweeney blurred that distinction.  The good guys were as rough and ready as the people they were pursuing. They cut corners and didn’t always follow the letter of the law they were upholding. This TV show heralded a change to these types of programs. It could be a argued that the gritty dramas we watch today follows a direct line back to this drama. There is always a danger that reviving a seminal, beloved drama can result in a backlash from fans of the show and the critical community. The Sweeney is going to have to work hard to avoid this.

The tale opens on a robbery in a London warehouse. As the armed gang are starting to load the loot they are interrupted by a JCB crashing through a wall followed by the flying squad. They proceed to take down the gang. This sequence neatly introduces us to the main members of the flying squad. We see Carter (Ben Drew) leading the charge closely followed by Nancy (Hayley Atwell). I typical film style we are introduced to Regan at the end of the sequence. Back at base the team find themselves the subject of an internal affairs investigation into their methods. The investigation is being led by Ivan Lewis, the husband of Nancy. Lewis hates Regan and everything he stands for.  Regan has no time for Lewis and is in fact in a relationship with Nancy.  The squad commander, Haskins (Damien Lewis), warns Regan to calm his methods until the investigation blows over.  Unfortunately a new case drops in their lap. A jewelers shop gets robbed and a customer is executed. The method used to open the safe is familiar to Regan and he set the team of on an investigation that will have a radical effect on Regan, Carter and everyone around them.

Before this film even started it had a promising pedigree. Director Nick Love has a decent track record of making solid, gritty British thrillers. A real plus point is John Hodge who provided the screen play. Best known for his early collaborations with Danny Boyle on Trainspotting, Shallow Grave and A life less Ordinary. Add in a cast including Ray Winstone,  Ben Drew (Plan B), Hayley Atwell and Damien Lewis and it all looks interesting.

Instead of playing on the heritage of the Sweeney the film updates the action to present day London. The opening shots show the city of London at night in all it’s Neon and silver glory. The main characters are suitably gritty and morally dubious. It’s just a pity that they are not particularly complex and interesting  The main actors are all good but they struggle with the material given to them. The dialogue is a bit clunky and you kind of know what is going to happen next and what they are going to say.  Ray Winstone doesn’t really have to stretch himself in this and we have seen this performance (good as it is) many times before. It’s all scowling with an undercurrent of menace. Drew and Atwell provide excellent support but are underused much to the detriment of the film. I did enjoy their inter-relationships but could have done with more of them.

The film looks great. The city is shown off to it’s best. There is inventive use of locations including Trafalgar Square in a memorable shoot out. The set pieces all look good and the action is well staged and engaging. The film zips along at a brisk pace but the lack of development in the characters means that at the points in the film you should be rooting for the characters you don’t really care what happens to them. The film has little in common with the original TV show save it’s name and the central characters. I think in this instance it is purely a marketing tool to gain a bit of extra publicity. The film could have been called anything at all.

The film was entertaining but could have been a lot more with a better story and screen time spent on character development. Recommended with reservations.

John McArthur
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