The Sweeney reboot is a celluloid slag

In the 1970s, Ian Kennedy Martin’s “The Sweeney” was a ground-breaking British television drama that exposed the rough underbelly of the Metropolitan police force- one which had previously been ignored by the media.  Now, over 30 years later, police brutality and corruption seems rather passé; countless TV programmes and films have explored the dark side of law enforcement.   So what can the big screen reboot of the iconic British coppers, The Sweeney, offer in the year 2012?  With writer/director Nick Love playing a poor man’s Michael Mann, the answer is: not much at all.

As Ray Winstone steps into John Thaw’s shoes as the leader of the flying squad, Jack Regan, some artistic license has been taken in modernising the character.  Regan’s drinking has been swapped for a more serious level of corruption: theft.  Yes, in a move that seriously alters the complexion of Regan’s character, Winstone’s hard-nosed cop isn’t averse to nicking the loot after nicking the baddie.  Meanwhile, Ben Drew gives George Carter a chav-tastic street makeover.  If anyone was ever going to point out to Mr Plan B that it would be acting to not play Carter in such a manner, it certainly wasn’t going to be Love.  Hayley Atwell joins the action as a fellow member of the unit, who, entirely unbelievably, is servicing Regan’s member on the side.  Her character also happens to be married to the internal affairs agent (Steven Mackintosh) investigating The Sweeney’s questionable tactics.  No conflict of interest there, then.  Blissfully ignoring the threat facing the unit, Winstone and Co ferociously hunt down a pack of jewellery store thieves who have executed a seemingly innocent civilian.  Not that any of this seems to truly matter, but a film does, technically, need a plot, after all. As does any poor-to-average movie, The Sweeney has a few bright spots.  Winstone’s Cockney drawl brings an enjoyable element to the character, as he mutters about everyone being a “slag”.  If Love hadn’t be so determined to take the film far too seriously, it could have been fun watching Winstone’s Regan battering thugs and coming up with new ways to tell them they’re nicked.  Instead, The Sweeney is packed with gunfights and car chases.  For those who require little sense to their action sequences, The Sweeney should prove to be a good time.  A shootout in London’s Trafalgar Square is not something seen everyday, so the novelty of it works.  The sound design is extremely crisp during the bank job aftermath and various other scenes, even if it does border on deafening.  As for Drew, he isn’t bad, but none of it seems like a stretch for him.  If he wants to be taken seriously as an actor, he needs to start taking roles that may actually challenge him.

Unfortunately, there’s not much else of an upside to The Sweeney.  Love does his damnedest to give it a big, Hollywood feel, but the stylistic choices he uses makes the film look and sound like a knock-off.  The score is completely over-the-top, intrusive and so Inception-ish, it may have Hans Zimmer phoning his lawyers.  Rarely is a score so loud that the film feels like an accessory, but The Sweeney manages it.  Still, the biggest problem, by a wide margin, is the plot.  Little is done to create a connection between any of the characters and the audience.  There is no insight, nor motivation given for why they behave in any particular way.  Why is Regan pocketing ingots and how does he reconcile this with his own ethics?  Love seems to not want to consider such things.  The murder victim is given no introduction or meaningful identity, so there’s no investment in seeing her killers brought to justice beyond the basics of right and wrong, which have been trampled on by the Sweeney to begin with.  As a result, Regan”s search for the killers fails to create any notable suspense, rendering the entire process remarkably dull, no matter how many bullets or screeching tyres Love throws at the screen.

While there’s nothing offensively horrible about The Sweeney there’s not much to recommend about it either.  The action is ear-splitting and generic while little thought seems to have been put into the characters or story.  Winstone gets some comical dialogue to work with, but nowhere near enough to make The Sweeney a worthwhile watch.  Love’s film is a far cry from the beloved British series; in a just world, the director himself would be nicked for fraud.  5/10

The Sweeney is in UK cinemas 12 September

  • Makin Trebolt

    This review is negative bullshit.The film is a corker