Set for its world premiere in Locarno, this cops-and-robbers remake of a 1970s British TV drama is both flashy and muscular.
Rebooting a much-loved British TV drama from the 1970s, writer-director Nick Love, who has earned a respectable U.K. following with simplistic love letters to macho villainy like The Football Factory, shows himself to be a kind of low-rent Guy Ritchie with The Sweeney, a celebration of lowlife thuggery and vigilante justice.
With Ray Winstone and Homeland star Damian Lewis in the cast and a kinetic visual style that imbues contemporary London with all the glossy swagger of a Michael Mann production, Sweeney feels muscular and dynamic enough to reel in a worldwide action-movie audience. But fans of the original TV series, or simply of quaint notions such as subtlety and wit, are unlikely to be seduced by Love's infantile cops-and-robbers fantasy.
Heading to its world premiere Aug. 1 at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, Love's film is not the first big-screen outing for Sweeney. Spawning two cinematic spinoffs in the late '70s, the original series became a hugely successful milestone in British TV and was the first show to portray policemen as rule-bending antiheroes with a taste for casual brutality, booze and bed-hopping.
As Jack Regan, senior detective at the Flying Squad, a branch of London's Metropolitan Police set up in the 1920s to tackle violent crime, Winstone glowers and growls his way through some excruciatingly bad lines. Playing his streetwise young deputy Carter is Ben Drew (aka rapper Plan B), who wrote and directed the superior London drama Ill Manors this year. Drew is a fine musician and a promising filmmaker, but he looks stiff and muted here, possibly in response to a painfully corny script. At least Lewis brings a dash of delicacy to his supporting role as the squad's long-suffering boss, torn between protecting his loose-cannon lawmen and the bureaucrats who want to shut them down.
Revolving around a bank heist, a murder in a jewelry shop and a renegade gang of Balkan hit men, Love's remake borrows little from its TV blueprint besides title, names and basic setup. The characters are crudely drawn and the plot generic, but the action scenes have a visceral punch and swagger, especially a fast-moving gun battle around Trafalgar Square.
In the real Metropolitan Police of 2012, Regan's chauvinism and childish antagonism to his superiors would get him sacked within a week. Alas, all the evidence suggests Love expects us to admire him. The female squad members, all mysteriously younger and better-looking than their male colleagues, naturally find Regan and his boorish crew irresistible. Real men, the script suggests, earn respect with their fists.
In this respect, Sweeney owes more to Love's previous films than to its vintage TV predecessor. Perhaps Love's testosterone-fueled exercise in visual razzle-dazzle will help sell him to Hollywood as a maker of shallow but eye-catching crime thrillers in the Tony Scott mold. But on its own merits, Sweeney is as charmless as an angry drunk at a wedding and as subtle as a shotgun blast to the face.
Venue: Locarno Film Festival
Cast: Ray Winstone, Ben Drew, Damian Lewis
Writer-director: Nick Love