Ray Winstone has always been a strong contender for the Actor You’d Be Least Apt to Fuck With; whether he’s playing a borstal youth (1977’s Scum) or a middle-aged gangster geezer (2006’s The Departed), the 55-year-old star’s persona suggests a head-butting hooligan who’s just been told his team has lost. So you can imagine how exciting it was for those behind this big-screen remake of the ’70s British cop show to cast Winstone as the iconic policeman Jack Regan. (He actually made a brief appearance in the original series as a teenaged thug.) Simply the notion of hearing his gravelly, Hackney-accented voice uttering the program’s tagline—“We’re the Sweeney, and you’ve been nicked!”—must have given director Nick Love and his collaborators a hard-man hard-on.
Sure enough, Winstone’s take on the morally dodgy head detective of the Flying Squad—an elite special-crimes unit—would make original Regan, actor John Thaw, proud. That’s the only aspect of this attempt to coast off the classic show’s name, however, that hits pay dirt. Like Hollywood’s pilfering of our perpetually rerun pop-TV pantheon entries, this pandering nostalgia trip does little justice to its source material, as if slapping a faux–Hans Zimmer score, a Heat-inspired shootout and some lad-mag swagger onto a nonsensical plot makes all the confusing chaos cool. Fans of the gritty, era-defining precinct drama will bristle at how the program's realism has been replaced by a generic Tinseltown U.K. slickness. But regardless of whether you’re a longtime devotee or not, you’ll be left saying, “This is The Sweeney? I’ve been rooked.”
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