Talking Movies

September 12, 2012

The Sweeney

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.

3/5

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October 6, 2010

Phaedra

Rough Magic presents a version of Phaedra that incorporates live music into the unfolding tragedy but the results are sadly uneven…

Phaedra charts the downfall of one of those psychotically dysfunctional families that seemed to proliferate in ancient Greece. Phaedra (Catherine Walker) is a trophy wife married to the older and brutally abusive Theseus (Stephen Brennan) but she is mad with desire for his adult son Hippolytus (Allen Leech), ironically her emotional distance only increases Theseus’ infatuation with her. When news comes that Theseus has been killed champagne is spilled and secret desires are revealed, not only by Phaedra who provocatively poses in her underwear while asking Hippolytus to help her pick out a dress for the funeral, but by Aricia (Gemma Reeves) whose father traded the house to Theseus for his debts. Much like the Abbey’s recent production of Macbeth that attempted to situate the play in Cromwellian Ireland before giving up Phaedra is littered with the remains of a half-abandoned high-concept. Theseus is apparently a property developer and there are references to the entire country circling the drain on its way out. But there’s no sustained attempt to substantively re-imagine Phaedra for the Celtic Tiger so these moments feel like cheap zeitgeist-surfing beside the more pointed resonances to be found elsewhere in the festival with Enron and John Gabriel Borkman.

John Comiskey’s stainless steel set with tunnels leading underground and huge narrow windows and video screens worked by remote control nicely de-domesticises proceedings as the gods stalk this family. Euripides’ tragedy had previously been reworked by Seneca and Racine and this version reinstates the gods Racine discarded, as well as placing five musicians led by Ellen Cranitch and Cormac de Barra on-stage scoring the action. This conceit can be utterly stunning. Aphrodite (Cathy White), Artemis (Anuna co-founder Fionnuala Gill), and Poseidon (Rory Musgrave) sing while the characters move in a stylised fashion and the first act climax is amazing, as is a later sequence where Phaedra rehearsing a speech by repeating certain lines becomes live sampling scored by repetitive music which re-creates the ritualistic origins of Greek theatre. Composer Ellen Cranitch and director Lynne Parker were deeply involved in the extended development of this version so while they should be praised for such heights they must also accept blame for Hilary Fannin’s script which is deeply uneven and too eager to ‘shock’, why else open with Enone (Michele Forbes) discussing re-shaping the contours south of the female border? Fannin favours profanity over profundity to an extent that quickly becomes deeply tiresome, and a number of Theseus’ gynaecological-flavoured insults in the second act receive no laughs when they are clearly meant to be hi-larious.

Gate mainstay Brennan’s Theseus is absent for nearly half the play and when he does appear he is deeply over the top, rolling his voice and relishing his swearwords. Sarah Greene’s saucy Ismene, talking dirty in broadest Corkonian, matches him while Darragh Kelly’s subtle turn as the psychiatrist Theramenes provides a badly needed emotional anchor. Leech redeems himself for Man About Dog with a fine performance as the tortured Hippolytus but while Catherine Walker is strong as Phaedra, for all her dialogue you never feel allowed into her psyche, and that is a disappointing outcome for a classical heroine here re-created by women.

This is worth seeing but what should have been a highlight of the Dublin Theatre Festival only intermittently reaches the heights that were expected of it.

2.5/5

Phaedra continues its run at the Project Arts Centre until October 10th.

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