THE SWEENEY. Starring Ray Winstone, Hayley Atwell, Ben Drew, Damian Lewis, Steven Mackintosh. Directed by:Nick Love. MA 15+ (Strong violence and coarse language ) 112 minutes.
Based on the 1970s television series of the same name, The Sweeney is apolice thriller which uses lashings of violence and grainy camerawork to tell us what we know already: that police squads in Britain and elsewhere, bend laws and use brutal, often illegal methods to bring hardened criminals to justice.
To reinforce this, The Sweeney (cockney rhyming slang for Sweeney Todd) begins with Detective Inspector Jack Regan (Ray Winstone) and his Flying Squad rushing late at night, armed with baseball bats, to a warehouse where a gang of violent criminals are engaged in a gold robbery.
When we see the 'Sweeney' in their cars, fondling their baseball bats and talking desultorily about what they will do after 'work', we naturally assume that they are the robbers. But no. As in many films today about detectives, military operatives, or witch-hunters, for justice to be done the goodies must be virtually indistinguishable from the baddies, a sad reflection perhaps on what passes today as entertainment and well as reality.
Ray Winstone is a master at playing edgy, ambiguous characters, but his Regan is a charmless and boorish, a crass caricature of John Thaw's likeable original. After filching gold ingots at the crime scene, and later in caveman fashion almost raping his colleague and lover D C Nancy Lewis (Hayley Atwell), Regan is suspected of dishonesty and becomes the subject of an Internal Investigation, led by his lover's vengeful husband, D C I Ivan Lewis (Steven Mackintosh).
But undeterred, and with the support of his loyal partner George Carter (Ben Drew in the role made famous by Dennis Waterman), Regan pursues the gang of bank robbers with dogged fervour until untoward events (a shock death and a brief stint in jail) stop him - temporarily.
In all, The Sweeneyis shallow and unrewarding. There is more to reality and police work than violence and thuggery, and the clumsy, unclear script by director Nick Love (The Firm, Outlaw), makes no attempt to flesh out characters or answer vital questions such as: what makes Regan tick, apart from testosterone?
As a consequence of this sloppiness, Winstone'sperformance suffers greatly from a lack of definition. Similarly affected is Damian Lewis (The Forsyte Saga, Homeland) who is wasted in the role of Regan's immediate superior, and promising actor Drew (alias rap artist Plan B), who is burdened with an unappealing role, the execution of which does him no favours.
Jan Epstein is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out 14th February 2012.