The Sweeney Review

Film Still
  • The Sweeney film still


This geezered-up take on the no-nonsense '70s cop show is a witless endorsement for police brutality.

London cop drama The Sweeney revolutionised the genre when it aired on TV in the 1970s, introducing audiences to gritty violence, moral ambiguity and extreme womanising as personified by detectives Regan and Carter (John Thaw and Dennis Waterman). The show now seems very much a product of its time, but arch nu-lad Nick Love has still opted to reboot this property for a new generation. The results are mixed.

Operating from a gleaming state-of-the- art tower block in London’s Square Mile, Love’s modern flying squad are an elite unit of roughneck cops given to geezerish banter and nights out on the piss. Top man Regan (Ray Winstone) is a product of the old school, with a quick temper and a sanctimonious grasp of his own moral rectitude. When a woman is murdered in a jewellery store heist, the Sweeney mobilise, though they face opposition from a nebbish superior (Steven Mackintosh) who objects to their heavy-handed tactics.

A close-cropped Winstone, who’s worked his ample body into a bizarre state of muscular corpulence, spends the duration of the film charging around in a volcanic funk. His Regan is as nuanced as an anvil to the face, but he’s a real presence. He’s also The Sweeney’s biggest problem. Love is indulgently in thrall to Regan, glorying in his hair-trigger use of violence and intimidation to the extent that any meaningful interrogation of his morality is deafening by its absence.

More troubling is the manner in which the film sacrifices its female characters in order to manipulate us into swallowing Regan’s barbaric actions, with Ben Drew’s Carter ushered in as an unconvincing, thinly drawn counterweight. Love further loads the dice in favour of Regan by painting Mackintosh’s superior as little short of a eunuch. He’s a fine actor, but his one-dimensional role fits squarely into Love’s matrix of retrograde masculinity. He’s not really a man, argues Love, because he can’t fuck his wife (that’s also a job for Regan, who’s having an affair with her), rather a toothless product of a nannified culture that won’t let proper coppers get on with their jobs.

It’s a horribly reactionary stance made less palatable by the film’s singular lack of wit, and its indulgence in Nuts-esque banter. Although criticising Love on the grounds of peddling neolithic sexual politics is like taking a late-night kebab to task for being full of cheap meat: it’s just the way it is, and it can’t hear you.

Furthermore, while Love – aping the digitally slick visual sensibility of latter day Michael Mann – shoots London with an intriguing titanium hue, his capital city lacks the acute sense of place of, say, Wild Bill, Dexter Fletcher’s recent lament for an East London colonised by the Olympics. A landscape with potential is wasted on a rote plot that’s peppered with smirking villains and gratuitous head-staving.

The action sequences are handled with grim competence and the supporting performances are decent, but one can’t help wonder as to the contemporary significance of all this. Why did it need to happen? There’s no compelling reason.

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