Nothing wrong with a bit of controversy; it’s just like, my opinion, man, but Nick Love’s reboot of the beloved Euston Films tv show is a really good old-school British policier. Yes, the old John Thaw/Dennis Waterman tv show from the 1970’s was a blast, and still stands up well with lots of location shooting, motors, salty humour and tough-guy posturing. Creating a new version was no easy task, and while this 2012 revival topped the UK box office on release, it was not loved by many, although the French somehow thought it was worth an instant, scene-by-scene remake with Jean Reno in 2016.
It’s a cops and robbers game. Regan and Carter are part of a crime-unit called the Sweeney (rhyming slang Sweeney Todd; Flying Squad) whose tough methods attract the unwelcome attentions of boss Haskins (a well-cast Damien Lewis) who is presiding over an internal affairs investigation. Solving the murder of a woman gunned down in a diamond-shop heist is the goal, but as the cops brethlessly surmise, it’s not a robbery, it’s an execution….
The main cast are hardly like-for-like substitutions and likely to enrage purists. Ray Winstone’s cockney geezer routine has a little of Thaw’s rough-and-ready energy; despite his ubiquitous betting adverts, the actor was good in Sexy Beast and 44 Inch Chest, and offers a slovenly take on the hard-bitten cop Jack Regan. Similarly, casting rapper Ben Drew aka Plan B as sidekick Carter doubles-down on street-cred if not actual credibility; Drew doesn’t look like he could park an ice-cream van never mind bust a crime ring, and yet that inexperience and unfamiliarity work to brighten the old-man’s-picture mood.
But where Love’s film scores is the action; punch-ups are punchy, car chases thrill including the caravan-site climax, and the film’s dynamic centrepiece is a lengthy Michael Mann-style shoot-em-up with machine guns in Trafalgar Square. Shot by the brilliant Simon Dennis, this makes great use of real locations and off-the-cuff, hand-held shooting. The gleaming contrast between the office-world of the cops and the dingy garages of the crims is striking throughout, and there’s some vintage support from Alan Lake, Allan Corduner and even Ed Skrein.
From a script co-written by Love and Trainspotting’s John Hodge, The Sweeney doesn’t aim for any real reflection on UK police brutality other than to celebrate it; this womanising Regan is pure blokey-wish fulfilment, particularly a risible non-PC plot-line about him sleeping with the boss’s girl, played by Hayley Atwell. Yet by ringing the changes on the venerable property, Love somehow makes a crime drama compelling in its simplicity. The whole venture may be aimed at selling a few DVD’s out of supermarket bins, but there’s nothing wrong with a little low-brow entertainment. And if that’s the kind of action you seek, then, as Jack Regan says, ‘get your trousers on, you’re nicked!’