In this current climate of endless remakes, re-imaginings, sequels and adaptations, it can be a blessing to be unfamiliar with the source material behind the movie in question. Nick Love’s big screen remake of vintage TV cop show The Sweeney is one such case. While I have a certain admiration and respect for the late, great John Thaw, I’m far more familiar with Ray Winstone, an actor I almost always enjoy. Swapping out Dennis Waterman for rapper/actor Ben ‘Plan B’ Drew doesn’t exactly break my heart either. It’s an easy thing for me to approach The Sweeney without prejudice and enjoy it, or not, on its own merits
Plotwise we’re in basic cops and robbers territory. Jack Regan (Winstone) is head of the flying squad (flying squad/Sweeney Todd/the Sweeney), an elite unit dedicated to armed robbery cases, George Carter (Ben Drew) is his young right hand. When an armed heist at a jewelers results in the death of a civilian, Regan discovers that the chief suspect is a criminal that he has a long and complicated history with.
The first thing I noticed about this update were the impressive production values. This is not the gritty and grimy ..Sweeney your grandparents watched, it instead more resembles a slick US production, such as Michael Mann’s Heat, which is remarkable given the movie’s fairly low budget. The problem with Nick Love’s film is that, underneath the sleek, glossy packaging, it’s all rather hollow. Much like Love’s sophomore directorial effort, hooligan flick The Football Factory, there seems to an element of cherry picking moments and ideas from other, stronger movies, whilst losing much of what made these ideas work the first time around. Take, for instance, the Trafalgar square set shootout between Regan’s squad and the crew they’re pursuing. It borrows elements from Heat quite liberally, but is merely efficient rather than thrilling, despite the obvious skill with which Love arranges the scene. That is very much what The Sweeney is at best, efficient, but missing some vital spark that would get the pulse racing in the way these types of movie should.
This lack of real inspiration also extends to the cast. Winstone, as reliable a performer as I can think of, is ill served by a script that presents Regan as a pretty unpleasant individual, and therefore almost impossible to relate to. The writers would have you see Regan as uncompromising, but really he just comes across as arrogant, mean spirited and immature. It’s really no fault of Winstone, rather poor writing. Ben Drew fairs a little better, being gifted a character with a little more personality than most of the blatant stereotypes on display, but it’s not a meaty enough role to allow for a particularly great performance. The rest of the cast are fine, Steven Mackintosh shines as much as he can in his thankless role as the internal affairs officer whose wife Regan is humping, but otherwise everyone is, it’s that word again, efficient.
That’s The Sweeney then, the performances, direction, dialogue, score, all just ever so slightly above average. It looks quite pretty at times, and is a reasonably entertaining diversion, but it’s in no way spectacular or even particularly memorable. It’s a step up for Nick Love as a director after the awful Outlaw, but hopefully his next movie will capitalise on the clear talent he has for style, with something that has a little more substance.
Director: Nick Love
Stars: Ray Winstone, Ben Drew. Damian Lewis, Hayley Atwell, Steven Mackintosh
Runtime: 112 min