Thursday 13 September 2012

The Sweeney (2012) - Nick Love

It might be inspired by the 70s UK television show, but The Sweeney has a large helping of US cop drama in its mix of fantasy and reality.

Director Nick Love's London is not the gritty urban space of 90s gangster films, but a glossy metropolis more reminiscent of LA or New York.  Frequent aerial shots give us a birds-eye view of a sprawling city by day and by night, lending a sense of space as well as twinkling glamour.  The offices of The Sweeney are clinical and sleek: all white paint, metallic surfaces and glass windows through which modern landmarks like The Gherkin and The Shard fight for our attention.  As an advert for London tourism in this Olympic year, it certainly paints an attractive picture.  Even the criminals live in high class country estates.

The language, however, is pure cockney.  "You're nicked" might be a catchphrase from the TV show, but it provides some welcome British humour amongst all the action.  All the f'in' and blindin' ensure the film doesn't take itself too seriously, even if it does undermine any intentional seriousness in the plot.

The action, too, is gritty and visceral.  Car chases and city shoot-outs are filmed with a hand camera - water spray hits the screen and tree branches swoop into view.  In addition, the sound effects pack a real punch, gun shots and crashes practically exploding out of the speakers.

Sadly, the plot asks us to suspend our disbelief too often.  Ray Winstone's Jack Regan is head of The Sweeney, a Flying Squad of detectives who "act like criminals to catch criminals".  A bank heist sees the return of an old adversary, pushing the squad to their limits and forcing them to question their loyalty to one another and to the law when their methods are put under investigation.  Narrative threads are dropped after little development, so we never see the after-effects.  One specific event should have some serious implications on the characters, but instead it's quickly forgotten.

And what about Ray Winstone's heavy breathing?  It's no wonder he has trouble catching criminals when he's wheezing like an asthmatic racing Usain Bolt.  It's also difficult to believe that Hayley Atwell's attractive young Nancy would be interested in him and his sagging belly, despite him seducing her in his pants with all the subtlety of an excited Jack Russell.  It's a decent, gruff performance from Winstone but nothing we haven't seen before.  On the other hand, Ben Drew, aka Plan B, is something of a revelation as Regan's partner George.  He may largely be playing himself, but he's undeniably believable as the bad guy turned good.  

The Sweeney takes the best bits of US and British cop dramas and, even if it's a bit silly at times, it's still a fun watch.