Politically incorrect film reviews – The Sweeney

Main cast Ray Winstone, Ben Drew, Damian Lewis, Hayley Atwell and Steven Mackintosh.

Robert Henderson

The latest filmic incarnation of the 1970s TV series the Sweeney is  a serious mess. (For those unfamiliar with the  TV series, the Sweeney is rhyming slang for the  Flying  Squad  = Sweeney Todd – an elite (London) Metropolitan Police unit dealing with armed robberies and other serious  armed  crime).  The film, as with the TV series, is built around the operational head of the Flying Squad Detective Inspector Jack Regan (Ray Winstone) and his second in command Detective Sergeant  George Carter (Ben Drew).

The action is removed from the 1970s  to  the  world   of the modern Metropolitan police.   This time shift  alone makes the  film utterly implausible, because the  routine mistreatment of villains and suspects in the film  would simply be impossible in the present day world of taped interviews and all too pervasive recording equipment. An officer might get away with it   once if he was dealing today with a villain who had reason to keep quiet about the abuse  but not over and over again. Nor will you find suspects being routinely interviewed without a lawyer. The extent of the violence, especially the frequent gun fights, adds to the absurdity.  If the  film had  remained set in  the 1970s, the audience might just have swallowed the mistreatment of suspects  just as they did with  the TV series Life on Mars, a  recent TV police drama set in the 1970s, although the extensive use of guns would still have seemed ludicrous because even today the British police use guns on a remarkably small number of occasions a year and did so even less in the 1970s.

But the updating of the film is not the most glaring  implausibility of the film.  This is an equal opportunities production . Whereas  in the 1970s TV series and the two original film spin-offs the Flying Squad was  resolutely white and male,  here it is crammed to the gunnels with , yes you’ve guessed it, blacks and women. (There is a double pc score in two cases because  two of the women are black).    Even in the  achingly  politically correct modern London police force you would be startled to the point of a cardiac arrest to find that  half the staff  in an elite unit like the Flying Squad were either black or female.  Just  to put the pc cherry on the cake, Carter is given a black stepson.

As so often happens with the inclusion of black characters in modern  films, they are utterly peripheral.  The pc quota has been filled and the pc gods placated. The white  women with one exception  are also non-entities.  The exception is Nancy (Hayley Attwell) .  She is the wife of  an officer Ivan Lewis  (Steven Mackintosh) from the Met’s internal affairs division who is investigating the misbehaviour of the Flying Squad. Nancy is  also Regan’s mistress despite being half his age.   To prove that women really are equal  to men we see her roughing up suspects  (very unconvincingly), punching villains, shooting guns and finally, just to show a female character can do the lot, getting killed in a gunfight.

The political correctness of the film, primarily feminism in this case, sits very queasily  with the non-pc nature of  Regan and the Flying Squad. The film is trying to have its 1970s era cake while trying to stuff a 2012 politically correct tart into its mouth at the same time.

There are other serious problems. The film  is built around  a  tiresomely improbable and convoluted plot based on the revenge  to be exacted by a villain Allen (Paul Anderson)  who was “nicked” by Regan years before and sent down for a long stretch.

Then there is the relationship between  Regan and Carter which was central to the success of the TV series and earlier films, with Regan as the erratic  DI and Carter as the person who regularly covered for him.    This film also puts  the relationship between Reagan and Carter at the centre of the action. The problem is the  relationship does not work.  John Thaw, who played Regan in his earlier incarnation, was nothing like such as blunt instrument of an actor  as Winstone  and Dennis Waterman as the original Carter had a much larger and intrusive personality to project than Drew, whose default  expression in the film was a near catatonic  God ,I’m being so cool.  They both offered far more scope for  a complex meeting of personalities.  Winstone and Drew just do not gel as a pair.   Perhaps most damaging  to the  relationship   is the loss of the considerable  humour between Regan and Carter which existed in the original Sweeney. The original also had a good deal of genuinely funny interplay between the Flying Squad as a whole.  That has gone as well,  with vulgarity  mistaken for  humour in the 2012 version.  The considerable screen-time devoted to the Regan/Nancy affair, which is embarrassingly unconvincing, also weakens the Regan/Carter  interaction.

The only enjoyable thing in the film is Winstone’s Regan sounding off in his 1,000 decibel way against his bosses, villains and anyone else who gets in his way.  Then his considerable screen presence  momentarily blots out the general failure of the film. The rest of the cast  are strangely insipid,  including both Regan’s boss Frank Haskins (Damian Lewis) and  Steven Mackintosh as the internal affairs investigator.

Should you go and see the film?  All I will say is older Sweeney fans should resist the temptation .  Keep your dreams.

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