Nick Love, British cinema’s leading chronicler of hardnut Londoners (The Football Factory, Outlaw), gives the 1970s TV series The Sweeney a clip round the ear and orders it to pull its socks up. Ray Winstone assumes the John Thaw role as Jack Regan, a Flying Squad dinosaur squaring up to bureaucracy, while Ben Drew (aka musician Plan B) steps into Dennis Waterman’s shoes as Carter, his younger, more compromising sidekick.
Love’s last movie was a period reboot of Alan Clarke’s 1989 film The Firm, but here he pointedly avoids a retro, Life on Mars approach to dramatising unconventional policing. Instead, Love and his co-writer John Hodge (Trainspotting) indulge the modernity of London in 2012, even putting Regan in a glass-walled, open-plan office, presumably as way of a stressing how his habits of bashing criminals round the nut or chasing them through the West End firing semi-automatic weapons are a little out of touch. There are enough aerial shots of Canary Wharf and the city’s skyline to keep helicopter cameramen in pocket until next Christmas.
Reality goes out the window as Love drowns out logic in favour of bluff, noise and testosterone. Events exist in no known legal or judicial system, and it feels like police advisors were actively avoided or ignored. The story sees Regan increasingly at odds with his superior, Haskins (Damian Lewis, not entirely comfortable with dodgy lines like: ‘The world’s running out of men like you, Jack’), and internal affairs boss, Lewis (Steven Mackintosh), whose wife, Nancy (Hayley Atwell), gives Winstone some unexpectedly saucy scenes.
Regan is hauled out of service when his methods switch from being merely neolithic to positively paleolithic. But this ageing bruiser refuses to sit back and watch Top Gear repeats, convinced as he is that he’s on the trail of a man behind a series of brutal robberies and a murder. There are some distracting car chases and there’s a frankly bonkers – but so delirious it’s welcome – shoot out in the National Gallery. It’s Winstone who keeps The Sweeney on the right side of duff. The actor is at his feral best, and plays gamely with an unlikely role as a gruff lothario in scenes with Atwell. Plan B doesn’t really have the acting chops for this, but Winstone’s more effective co-stars are the city and the film’s honest, unembarrassed embrace of Hollywood-style action on the unlikely streets of London.