Directed by: Nick Love
“Geezers need excitement
If their lives don’t provide them this they incite violence
Common sense simple common sense”
– The Streets
If anyone hasn’t listened to highlights from the Director’s commentary of Nick Love’s film ‘Outlaw’ then it gives you an insight into the creative minds of the director and his stooge, the lovable cockney cheeky chappy Danny Dyer.
Love is much maligned for his presentation of proper working class lads. Men who are unashamedly geezers; his characters are very much “what you see is what you get”, from football hooligans in ‘The Football Factory’ and ‘The Firm’, an aspirational ode to ‘Scarface’ in ‘The Business’ and marauding vigilantes in ‘Outlaw’. Critics love to slate Love’s films and most see him as inferior to fellow British directors of the noughties era like Shane Meadows and Ben Wheatley.
Making a modern day version of ‘The Sweeney’ seemed on paper to be a no brainer. The original TV show was adored by the Great British Public and the John Thaw and Dennis Waterman double act was a real representation of what proper men were like in the seventies. Regan and Carter can be considered two of the most popular British television cops, and arguably the best loved outside of Alfred ‘Tosh’ Lines and Frank Burnside.
In Love’s version of ‘The Sweeney’ we have veteran tough nut Ray Winstone as Regan and voice of urban youth Ben ‘Plan B’ Drew as Carter; Winstone’s Regan isn’t too different from John Thaw’s, he’s an intimidating man with a short fuse, who likes a bit of rumpy pumpy with a nice bit of fluff. The duo are part of the elite “Flying Squad” called The Sweeney; a branch of the Met who respond swiftly to in progress robberies. Regan and Carter bend the rules to get results.
Opening to a glorious aerial shot of London we get thrown right into the action as a warehouse depot robbery gets busted by Regan and Carter. What’s odd is that an armed response team decide to take on a group of masked men brandishing shotguns with wooden clubs. No matter, with a few brutal blows the situation is taking care of.
Winstone wheezes his way around the action sequences, looking like he might keel over at any moment; his body shape is frequently made fun of in the film, and actually becomes a much needed dose of light relief. Although we really could do without the sex scenes, gratuitous shots of Winstone from behind wearing his sagging XXL briefs, doing the deed with his much younger squeeze Nancy (bravely played by Hayley Atwell).
Regan has to deal with Internal Affairs who are trying to shut down the Flying Squad because of their over-aggressive methods, and his whole world gets turned upside down when a bank robbery goes seriously awry. Carter is keen as mustard, enjoys all the action, but because his missus has a bun in the oven he’s thinking about his own career prospects, moving up the ladder and settling down to a cushty desk job.
I always say that ‘The Town’ is the best blueprint for any modern crime thriller, because it uses the city surroundings brilliantly. Nick Love tries to use London, he’s able to incorporate some wonderful aerial shots of the capital, but as far as the action goes he gets it wrong. The usually busy Trafalgar Square is empty during a key robbery scene, and a shoot-out doesn’t quite capture the sheer pandemonium you might expect. In fact, the action is often unintentionally laughable. Both Winstone and Plan B seem uncomfortable even holding a weapon.
Damian Lewis is underutilized as the Sweeney’s constantly exasperated boss Frank Haskins. You feel that Lewis, with all his acting chops, would’ve been better cast as one of the bad guys. He mostly stands around in a teapot pose puffing out his cheeks and more or less going “Oh, what have you guys done now?” What we really needed was an Inspector Todd-like character from ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ to give Regan and Carter the hairdryer treatment for their reckless behaviour.
‘The Sweeney’, like most of Love’s films is watchable, but it fails to strike the correct balance between what we usually expect from an action packed crime movie, and properly acknowledge the legacy of the original.