Main cast Ray Winstone, Ben Drew, Damian Lewis, Hayley Atwell and Steven Mackintosh.
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 suspectsin 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 Reagan’s mistress. 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 Reagan 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 Reagan years before and sent down for a long stretch.
Then there is the relationship between Reagan and Carter which was central to the success of the TV series and earlier films, with Reagan 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 Reagan 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. Winstone and Drew just do not gel as a pair. Perhaps most damaging to the relationship is the loss of the considerable humour between Reagan and Carter which existed in the original Sweeney. The original also had a good deal of genuinely funny interaction 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 Reagan/Nancy affair also weakens the Reagan/Carter character development.
The only enjoyable thing in the film is Winstone’s Reagan sounding off 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 Reagan’s boss Frank Haskins (Damian Lewis) and the 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.