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Friday, September 14, 2012
The mere mention of a film update of the 1970s cop show generates impassioned disdain; another beloved classic sullied by contemporary lack of imagination. As conceived by Nick Love, the man behind many a Danny Dyer romp, people will say it is Sweeney in name only.
The problem though is not that this isn’t what The Sweeney would look like in 2012, but that it is.
Love’s last film took another gritty TV classic, Alan Clark’s searing 80s football hooligan drama The Firm, and turned it into a comfy nostalgic coming of age drama. There is no such defanging going on here though. The script, written with Trainspotting writer John Hodge, tries to imagine what John Thaw and Dennis Waterman’s boozy, cynical, sexist coppers would look like now and the result are not pretty.
Ben Drew’s Carter is barely more civilised than the vicious hooded thug he played in Harry Brown while Ray Winstone’s Regan is his character from Scum given a badge. God help society if this version of the Sweeney becomes a daytime staple on ITV4.
The main thrust of the story is not so much the Flying Squad search for a ruthless gang of bank robbers but their battle with the Internal Affairs, represented by Steven Mackintosh, and its investigation into their methods. In movies IA are always the baddies, the spineless bureaucrats trying to hamper the good cops. Here though they represent civilisation while The Sweeney amoral and crude crime detection seems one notch above the barbarity they are supposed to protect us from.
The film threads this streak of moral ambiguity into a hugely accomplished piece of popular cinema. Instead of the grey, rainswept backstreets of 70s London, they charge around the light polluting office blocks of the City and Canary Wharf and have machine gun battles in major tourist locations. A lot of early mornings and late nights must have gone into capturing this vision of our capital.
The action sequences are not just frantic and breathlessly executed but in character too. There is a car chase through an Essex mobile home park that is exactly what would be happening in TV cop show today if they weren’t all tired copies of Morse.
Winstone is of course a bit too portly to be a super cop (you can hear the wheeze as he attempts to leap onto a boat) or be romancing Hayley Atwell but the film gives him a standout introductory scene and from the first moment you don’t doubt him. He is our very own Depardieu, an instinctive performer balancing the absurd contradiction of being a Prole Luvvie.
THE SWEENEY (15)
Director: Nick Love
Starring: Ray Winstone, Ben Drew, Hayley Atwell, Damian Lewis, Steven Mackintosh and Paul Anderson
Length: 112 mins