views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Sweeney (15)
Cineworld, West India Quay
6th September 2012


"A rose by any other name..." maybe should have been in the forefront of the production team's mind throughout the making of this fairly fun British action film. Because it would have smelled a lot sweeter to me if it hadn't had The Sweeney plastered all over it.

Let's make one thing clear - a Sweeney film, as in an interpretation/reimagining/whatever of the original 1970s TV series this ain't. Sure, they have the names - Regan, Carter, Haskins - but other than the appropriation of one of the series' most classic lines ("Get your trousers on, you're nicked!") this has little to do with John Thaw's Flying Squad. And that's its biggest problem, it never really shakes what it could have been.

And that's a shame because on its own merits, it's fairly entertaining. A bombastic opening sequence sets its stall early, with Regan (Ray Winstone) and Carter (Ben Drew, aka musician Plan B) bursting through the wall during a gold heist, all guns blazing. It's clear what you're in for and, mostly, keeps up the high-octane action throughout.

The plot itself seems to think it's cleverer than it is, with the audience frequently reaching the inevitable conclusion of the mystery long before our alleged supercops. It starts with an execution of a seemingly innocent bystander during a jewellery shop raid, leading our team on a merry chase with an internal investigation breathing down its neck. If anything, it's a bit too overfull, with the primary criminal baddies, the secondary police baddies, the disgracing and redemption of a title character all in a little under two hours. But it's enough for a bunch of exciting set pieces and allowing Winstone to deliver a series of gravelly quips.

Slowing down proceedings considerably are constant sweeping shots of the Gherkin, Canary Wharf and other parts of the London skyline. I half expected a voiceover to jump in at any given point announcing "Lord Sugar is meeting Team Sweeney and Team Nastybad Criminals at the National Gallery to announce this week's task". When it drags, it really does drag, but when The Sweeney ratchets up a gear into its frequent shoot-outs and car chases, you forgive the worst excesses of scene-setting and it becomes very entertaining.

Another - surprisingly - enjoyable aspect is Ben Drew as Carter. He's a young cop who turned his back on gangs to join the force, and he's believable. Drew himself felt like an outcast as a kid, and he channels his experiences well to do a great job with a thin character. Winstone, on the other hand, does his usual gruff, hard-as-nails act but ramped up to 11. I know the Sweeney are meant to be on the edge of the law, but I really don't remember Thaw's Regan be an out-and-out psychopath, as Winstone's is. It's also a shame that such a strong actor as Hayley Atwell is reduced to something less than a role, with her Nancy being nothing more than eye candy and a plot contrivance which serves to ramp up tension between Regan and Steven Mackintosh's internal affairs chief Lewis.

One of the final summer action flicks to hit cinemas, it's a worthwhile watch. Even when the blue/orange contrast (endemic on film posters such as Tron Legacy and The Bourne Identity) gets too annoying, it's at least framed well with slick, fluid action and more than a few laughs. But if writer/director Nick Love had the confidence to sell it on its own merits rather than attempt to create a new franchise, it could have been a heap better.

The Sweeney was released in the UK on 12th September 2012.

Nearest tube station: West India Quay (DLR)

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