The Sweeney Review
Get your trousers on, you're nicked!
Back in the late 70s, when the original TV show was set, there was a certain level of authenticity about the series. Back then, unofficial backhanders to criminals in exchange for information were quite common and some of the more unorthodox methods employed by the Flying Squad landed a few of them in prison and to more losing their jobs and pensions. In our more enlightened times, I was quite surprised to find that the Flying Squad still exist, and even if they are more of a specialist intelligence gathering team than a gang of semi-reformed thugs these days, they still foil some very high profile cases.
So where does this leave the new film? A couple of hours of serious minded professional police officers holding clandestine mobile phone calls with their grasses, filling in the paperwork and then phoning SO19 for a tactical strike really would not make great viewing. I cannot quite imagine being riveted to the screen as Regan asks for permission to be involved in a pursuit, giving detailed information about the road conditions, weather and the presence of civilians. Fortunately, writer and director Nick Love found a much better angle, neatly dropping all the trappings of the modern age into some good old 70’s thugged up policing.
It would be wrong to consider this as a re-boot, it’s more of a case of taking some character names and the basic premise of the series and creating something more attractive to current audiences. Ray Winstone takes the role of Jack Regan, creating a tough, street hardened police officer who considers rules and regulations as something that applies to other people. He firmly believes that his success record gives him the licence to do pretty much whatever he wants, something that does not sit well with his boss, Haskins (Damian Lewis). Regan’s side kick is George Carter, here demoted from detective sergeant in the TV series to ordinary constable and played most competently by Ben Drew – or Plan B to give him his alternative performing name. Other protagonists include Nancy Lewis, (Hayley Atwell) a member of Regan’s squad and also his lover. A shame she is married to internal affairs office Ivan Lewis (Steven Mackintosh), as he already has it in for Regan and his renegade squad, even before he finds out about his wife’s little indiscretions.
The film opens with the Sweeney foiling a well organised bullion raid, borrowing a few “spare” gold Krugerrands along the way. From this we get the idea that they don’t play by the rules, as the use of pick axe handles and baseball bats is not normally sanctioned within the Territorial Support Groups, neither is the wanton destruction of cars and other assorted property. With the baddies behind bars, the squad go off for some post work drinks and then get on with the serious task of flirting, with a bit of bear baiting thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, this idyllic life is not to last, and a shocking robbery and apparently motiveless murder at a small time jewellers spurs the squad back into action.
It’s quite easy to tell the goodies from the baddies. All the coppers seem to have to drive are Ford vehicles – including the brand new Focus ST that was not even officially announced at that point, let alone in production, while the criminals have to settle for a variety of Range Rovers and Jags, what else! This is kind of where the problems start. Nick Love is reported to have made this film for just £2 Million, but there are quite a few areas where a couple of scores and a monkey might have improved the film somewhat. Instead of making do with an Essex warm hatch (They don’t make the Focus RS any more) he could have had a BMW M3 or a nice souped up Audi S4. This would at least have made the chases a bit more exciting. Alright, so in real life, they would probably have a Focus or Astra, but this is the movies darling, so let’s have a little bit of glamour! There is some humour in the film, mainly around some of the almost comic actions of Regan and Carter, but not as much as I remember from the TV series and certainly not sufficient to save this movie. I guess we should remember this film almost stalled when Fox Searchlight pulled out at the eleventh hour and therefore funds were tight, but it really needed more money and time to shoot.
This would also have allowed for more plot development and maybe making the film a little longer. There are simply too many holes to make the film completely enjoyable. The relationship between Regan and Nancy is not that consistent or well explained. We know they are lovers, but was she intending to leave her husband or just keep Regan as her bit on the side? We will never know. It would also have been nice to flesh out a few of the rest of the squad as well. This is supposed to be a tight knit team, but some of them seem to be just expendable cannon fodder, not valued colleagues contributing to the success of the undertaking. There is no doubt that this role was written for Winston. Both he and Ben Drew come across as East End heavies, only just on the right side of the law. While we know very little about Regan’s personal life or his past, Carter is portrayed more as the family man, rescued from the streets by Regan and given a lawful outlet for his criminal intents. In many ways, his is the more rounded character and probably the most convincing.
By now, Regan has fallen foul of Lewis and has been relieved of his badge, command and gun. This does not stop him carrying on as before, so the inevitable conclusion to this course of action is a spell in prison, not the most comfortable place for any copper, let alone one who nicks the most violent criminals with the most to lose. It is only fortunate that at least Carter is still behind him and carries off where his boss and mentor was forced to abandon the investigation. As with all police movies, there are a certain number of red herrings for the boys to content with, as well as a bunch of really quite evil nasty’s, a couple of whom hardly utter a word. This makes them seem all the more sinister.
Lorne Balfe may be better known for writing the music for video games like Assassins Creed, but his work alongside such music notaries as Hans Zimmer and served him well. The mostly electronic score is very Tron Legacy and Daft Punk inspired with plenty of low bass and sub harmonic synthesis to wake up the bottom end of your system. Strident strings, again, mainly in the lower register add to the more sinister parts, while the chases are much more upbeat. Now for the downside, it all sounds a bit like the copyright free corporate music dubbed onto in-house videos to make the annual results sound a bit more interesting. Again, I guess this is a budget issue, as much of the soundtrack has been created electronically and this is much cheaper than getting in flesh and blood musicians. Although the end result is pretty good, I don’t think it particularly fits or defines the film. That being said, I bet this is one of the most memorable aspects of the movie, much as the Daft Punk soundtrack was with Tron.
As the film roles towards its inevitable conclusion, the lack of budget starts to kick in. Many of us will have seen the BBC Top Gear feature set around a car chase in a caravan park. I had sort of assumed this would be a fairly minor section of the movie, not the finale. I mean, seriously? A car chase around some static caravans and a not particularly dramatic crash into a parked car at the end? It’s the sort of thing one might expect in a TV show, not a major movie. It might well have been filmed in a short space of time out of nesessity, but it still falls short.
So, what we end up with is a movie that fails to deliver on many of its promises and really needed at least twice the budget, if not a little more. Nick Love fails to extract the best out of his story, which seems a little weak from the outset and though the idea of setting 70’s policing in the modern era was clever, it’s just a shame it was not delivered particularly well.
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