Monday, 3 December 2012

Review Of "The Sweeney" film

I loved the original "Sweeney" TV series which ran in the mid-1970s just as I was entering teenagehood. Hard living, hard loving, hard punching Detectives with prodigious sideburns and kipper ties, drinking with criminals, paying 'snouts' (informers) and ready to dish out a bit of strong-arming on their suspects. With the added unalloyed pleasure of viewing parts of London I'd never seen, since it was largely shot on location.

So it was with trepidation that I saw a new film version was coming out this year. There had been two spin off films from the original TV series with the same cast back in the 70s. But this was an updating with Ray Winstone playing Jack Regan and Ben Drew (Plan B) as George Carter. And the names are about the only nod to the original. In fact there's more of a nod to the film "Scum" in which Ray Winstone launched his acting career, while incarcerated in a Youth Offenders Centre he loads a sock with pool balls for an assault; in "The Sweeney", DI Regan finds himself in prison and loads a sock with batteries from a radio... Winstone has been interviewed saying that "The Sweeney" film closes the circle for him, since as a young actor he had a minor role as a tearaway in an episode of the original TV series.

This film has almost nothing to do with the original. It doesn't even bear the same theme tune, but then I guess police sirens too have changed in the last 35 years. The guns are not signed in and out but seem a de rigeur part of the Flying Squad's everyday uniform. Their office in New Scotland Yard is very high tech with panoramic views over London and no manilla files anywhere, as everything is neatly arranged on computers and the wall display only seems to have mounted the case in question during the film. Regan's immediate boss Frank Haskins, played by Damian Lewis, has none of the fragility and dignity exhibited by Garfield Morgan in the original; a man torn between his politicking superiors and his action men detectives out in the field, both of whom look down and despise him for being in the camp of the other, knowing full well he was equally despised within that very camp. In one TV episode, Haskins was suspended pending a corruption inquiry, while Regan had to locate Haskins' mentally unravelling wife. Damian Lewis is afforded no such depth to play here.

Times have changed, no longer can the detectives socialise with villains in dodgy boozers, slipping their 'snouts' a twenty (the one in the film accepts Krugerands!) And no longer can they beat up suspects since we no longer do that in these times of the Court of Human Rights. So when Regan 2.0 brings in a suspect and ensures to bang him to every wall and projecting glass surface on the way into the interview room, it just comes over as totally unacceptable to the modern viewer's eyes. The film seems to want to suggest that  though Regan is a dinosaur, he gets results (Think Gene Hunt in "Life On Mars"). But the high tech & design office works against the notion of him and his team being from another era. Jack Regan in the 70s hated to lose a single innocent life in the crossfire. Winstone's Regan barely bats an eye at the fatalities in the very public firefight in Trafalgar Square.

I tried to weigh up whether I would have enjoyed this film on its own merits, if I disassociated it from my love of the original. The following plot loopholes informed me that no, "The Sweeney" really isn't that good a film at all. There is one very realistic firefight scene in Trafalgar Square in which hundreds of rounds are fired on the run without a single one finding its intended target. But that's about the sole redeeming feature throughout. I didn't want to see the London I live in now, with it's towers devoted to Finance. I yearned for the look of the London of my teens, the crappy box cars and spit and sawdust pubs. Oh well.

Warning: Contains Spoilers.

1) The plot concerns a criminal with a grudge against Regan. It's unclear if he means to humiliate him by pulling off a huge bank robbery under Regan's nose, or whether he aims to kill him. If the latter, there is a scene where Regan is trapped in a wrecked car, his female partner (in both senses of the word) Nancy Lewis lying unconscious on the concrete in front of him. One of the bad guys deliberately kills the helpless Nancy, but doesn't take up the chance to finish off Regan who is out of ammo and a sitting duck. Is it done to hurt him even more, killing his lover? Unlikely that the crims would know of their relationship, since even Carter remarks later that he didn't know.

2) So this ex-Serbian paramilitary who has hooked up with the criminal with a grudge, has a proclivity for not leaving any witnesses alive. A man being very careful to cover up his tracks. And yet he allows himself to be photographed with a woman he executes in the film's first armed robbery that straight away leads the police on to his trail. Also it was clear to my eyes that it was an execution style slaying, yet took Regan a third of the film and some antsy post-sex meditation on the problem to come to come to the same conclusion. A film is usually lost when the audience are ahead of the characters.

3) During the firefight, a male Flying Squad officer is shot from close range, but saved by his body armour. And yet Nancy Lewis during the same pursuit isn't wearing any? Also, the paramilitary executed the women in the back of the head during the first robbery. Wouldn't he have also opted for a head shot with his prey backed into a corner here?

4) Now Internal Affairs (or whatever it's called in The Metropolitan Police) want to investigate the Flying Squad over its darker practises. Such as paying your informer out of the gold and Krugerands they prevented from being stolen in the film's opening. An investigation seems reasonable enough to me, it's theft and handling stolen property. The head of Internal Affairs just happens to be married to Nancy Lewis who is a member of Regan's Flying Squad and is of course cuckholding him with the very same Jack Regan. So the investigation gets personal when Regan's gung ho pursuit in Trafalgar Square get Nancy killed.  Hardly credible, even if most affairs are with a work colleague. Regan is banged up in jail, but his trusty sidekick Carter manages to find the evidence to get him released and they go on to catch the criminals and leave the widowed IA officer glowering at how Jack has outsmarted him. It's just preposterous plotting to be honest. I immediately was put in mind of Scooby Doo cartoon endings, 'why if it weren't for that pesky George Carter kid, I would have got away with nailing Regan' or some such.

5) So as said, Carter goes in pursuit of the one criminal wounded in the Trafalgar Square shootout, knowing he must be laid up somewhere after being operated on. He finds him, establishes that there are 4 guards on him, yet he doesn't call for back up and manages to pacify all 4 guards single handedly; this after we've had a massive firefight where not one intentional target got hit in Trafalgar Square; or, if he's just put them out of action, none come back at him for the duration of his interrogation of the wounded man. What are they doing, filing their nails? And while we're on the subject of crackshots, the final bullet that kills the criminal bisects him in the middle of his forehead, which again makes a mockery of the inaccuracies demonstrated in the Trafalgar Square shootout.

So let's count the cliches. 1) Maverick Cop 2) Maverick Cop loses his gun and Badge 3) Internal Affairs are doing an investigation 4) Criminal has a grudge and makes it personal on our Hero 5) From what I took to be a realistic portrayal of a shoot out in a very public space, we lapse into impossible shots and defeating overhwelming odds and firepower. 6) Car chases, but that's okay, we can allow car chases... Even if they're not terribly interesting

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