The Sweeney (review)

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The Sweeney red light Steven Mackintosh Ray Winstone

I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not seen the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

It’s like Life on Mars (the proper British one, not the ridiculous American version) in reverse: these cops are still living in the 1970s, when brawling was — apprently — an acceptable aspect of police work and assaulting a fellow officer was just an afternoon lark. (Baseball bats! They use baseball bats when going up against some bad guys. Even though they also carry guns.) Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is based on a 1970s British television series that — not ironically — was clearly an inspiration for Life on Mars. But there’s little appreciation for the fact that the world and the police who monitor it have changed in the past 35 years, except, as a bizarre sort of aside, in nodding to brute force and thuggish anti-charm as some sort of lost treasure of the past. “The world is running out of men like you, Jack,” his boss tells Jack Regan, the Neanderthal goon of a cop who heads up London’s Flying Squad. (Not that you’d learn this from the film, but in Cockney rhyming slang, “Flying Squad” becomes “Sweeney Todd” becomes simply “the Sweeney.”) (Oh, and the boss is Damian Lewis, newly a Golden Globe winner for his work on Homeland, and entirely wasted here, except that he gets to show off another accent, this one Cockney. No, he’s no more Cockney than he is American.) They work hard, they play hard, these Sweeney guys, cuz when it’s not baseball bats to the bad guys, it’s Jack (Ray Winstone: Snow White and the Huntsman) having an affair with his Sweeney cohort Nancy (Hayley Atwell: I, Anna), who just so happens to married to Jack’s Internal Affairs nemesis (Steven Mackintosh: Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels), who’s one of the villains here because he doesn’t like Jack’s thuggishness. I’d really love to imagine that Nancy was created to be a tough cop in her own right — plus she does have one awesome bit involving her eating like a real person, which women don’t get to do onscreen unless they’re fatty fat fats — but she’s little more than a pawn in Jack’s battles with other men and with himself. Male anguish! How do the mens survive it? Lots of gunplay seems to be the prescription. British director Nick Love’s attempt to ape Hollywood action movies only makes his movie look absurd, even if it does accidentally also hold up most Hollywood action movies as absurd, too. The shootout in Trafalgar Square, between Sweeney cops and a gang of Eastern European baddies who’ve just held up a private bank, is meant to be the film’s exciting centerpiece, yet it plays as little more than a risible piece of unpleasant violence porn in a city where police officers generally are not armed and generally do not act like cartoonishly American badasses. Yet even as unintentional parody, The Sweeney fails to amuse. It comes across more like wishful thinking, as if both the onscreen fictional characters and the offscreen real-life filmmakers were fantasizing about being in a Hollywood action movie. Pathetic.

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