The beloved 1970s British TV cop show gets an appropriately tough makeover with Ray Winstone and Ben Drew (aka Plan B) stepping into John Thaw and Denis Waterman’s iconic roles.
Jack Regan (Winstone) is the chief of Scotland Yard’s Flying Squad, the slightly unhinged individuals who respond to armed robberies. These are police officers who, explicitly in the case of Regan’s right-hand man George Carter (Ben Drew), joined the force for the thrill of the chase that the Flying Squad provides – if there’s no Sweeney, then there’s no Detective Carter. Regan and Carter’s heavy-handed tactics, including the use of baseball bats, raise the hackles of Internal Affairs chief Lewis (Steven Mackintosh), who has a grudge as his wife (and Sweeney member) Nancy (Hayley Atwell) is sleeping with Regan. Regan’s hands-off boss Haskins (Damian Lewis) defends the Sweeney, until Regan becomes obsessed with pinning a senseless murder committed during a diamond robbery on old criminal nemesis Allen (Paul Anderson). Can Regan and Carter unravel the mystery linking a bank heist, a diamond robbery, and an execution before they’re thrown to wolves?
This is not a warm nostalgia trip infused with energy because Nick (The Football Factory) Love is directing. This is a quite brutal thriller with tons of energy. There is an edge of the seat high-speed chase along a narrow country road that conveys the insane drive of these officers to catch criminals. The action highlight of the movie is a truly spectacular gun battle in Trafalgar Square. The geography of the shootout is impeccably set up from an earlier reconnaissance trip, and the choreography of the fight spilling towards the Tube before being diverted into the National Portrait Gallery is equalled by the suspense generated by the cat and mouse chase within the Gallery. Love’s use of aerial night-shots of London is also astounding because by focusing on the skyscrapers of the City he makes this feel like a glossy Michael Mann crime movie.
Love is a better director than a writer though as the dialogue displays a bit of a cloth ear despite the best efforts of his co-writer; Trainspotting scribe John Hodge who recently won an Olivier for his play Collaborators. There are some very funny lines, and a hilarious sequence of ordering delicious food as mental torture, and there’s also a wonderful cockney geezer in Regan’s informant Harry (Alan Ford), as well as delightful usages of the “You’re Nicked” catchphrase. But too many characters are left totally undeveloped like Allen Leech’s Irish Sweeney member Simon Ellis, while the critique of 1970s style brutal police tactics being out of date in the modern world but also sometimes necessary feels a bit heavy-handed.
Overall this is an enjoyable and visually impressive British film which deserves plaudits for eschewing the glib irony that infects TV adaptations for a realistic and nicely savage updating.