NB: these are my notes on the film, not a review – so you might not want to read them if you’ve not seen it yet.
The model for this updated remake of the 1970s TV series – which yielded two very good theatrical spinoffs – seems to be Michael Mann’s movie version of Miami Vice. We’re a long way from the boozers, nicks, gaffs and builders’ yards of the ‘70s and the Flying Squad now operate out of a steel-and-glass tower surrounded by bank HQs – which, oddly, now seem dodgier than the bank-robbers who target them in the City and complaints that Inspector Regan is a dinosaur seem even more on the nose than when directed at John Thaw. There’s an almost vestigial backstory that Regan (Ray Winstone) ‘rescued’ sidekick George Carter (Ben Drew) from petty criminality and brought him into the Force, though this key relationship is skimped to spend time on Regan’s affair with a colleague (Hayley Atwell) who is married to the internal affairs desk officer (Steven Waddington) who wants to bring him down. Damian Lewis is Regan’s Guv’nor, Haskins, and there are other faces in Regan’s squad (including some ethnic ones) but it’s mostly Winstone’s show.
Sweeney!, the first film spin-off, distanced itself from the series by stepping up to politics and conspiracy, but this is back down with the ‘firm of blaggers on my manor’ plot as the Squad go after some undercharacterised crims who have shot a witness during a jewel robbery – a cover for a murder committed to get rid of a witness/accomplice in the run-up to a big bank heist. Director Nick Love, upping his game after a run of profitable but critically sneered-at pictures (many with Danny Dyer), co-writes with John Hodge (Shallow Grave, Trainspotting) – if Sweeney creator Ian Kennedy Martin gets a credit anywhere, I missed it (and several of his signature lines are used). Before the star appears, the prologue cuts between two groups – one a bunch of krugerrand robbers, the other the cops en route to catch them – and the chatter makes it difficult to tell which is which until the bust starts. Though there’s lip-service to the trouble Regan is in with his bosses for some of his stunts, this isn’t a character study of an alcoholic whose methods are behind the times (Martin’s take) or cockney yarning about criminal London (in the Trevor Preston episodes). If anything, this is a Dirty Harry fantasy of badge-toting vigilante action where all means are justified to bring in the crooks – Carter admits he’s a copper because nothing else could legally give him the buzz, and there’s certainly a buzz to the many thumping scenes, chases, shoot-outs, face-offs and smash ‘em ups. One of the hits of FrightFest was the documentary Eurocrime, about the Italian knock-offs of Dirty Harry, The Godfather and The French Connection – there were British Eurocrime films too (the earlier Sweeney movies), and this has a lot of their out-of-control, two-steps-from-credibility feel and pacing.
Love stages a gun battle in Trafalgar Square which is a miracle of London location shooting – the chase proceeds into the National Gallery – and one of the best-ever action scenes shot against tourist London. There’s also a good final car chase through a caravan park in Gravesend. A trace of the old humour survives as a suddenly weight-conscious Regan orders a salad while his friends have the most fattening dishes imaginable – Winstone plays this wonderfully. It’s a polished game of cops and robbers, divorced from reality, taking place in the streets but with all the inconvenient people shoved out of the way and innocent bystanders we don’t care about taking their lumps along with the guilty scrotes. It’s not clever, not even on the level of last year’s Jason Statham-as-copper movie Blitz, but it’s a very watchable British genre movie. With Caroline Chikezie (the Cyberwoman from Torchwood), the very busy Alan Ford (as a grass) and Alan Corduner (underused in the movies since Topsy-Turvy).