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The Sweeney

FIRST, an explanation of the title The Sweeney: The movie, an adaptation of the ’70s Brit series of the same name, is about the rule-breaking, two-fisted cops of London’s Flying Squad. The name of the unit is Cockney rhyming slang: Flying Squad = Sweeney Todd.

The Cockney colloquialisms and the bullets fly fast and frequent in the movie, which stars a particularly marble-mouthed Ray Winstone as squad leader Jack Regan.

It soon becomes clear that rhyming slang may not be the only reason the squad is named for a razor-toting maniac. In the first 15 minutes of the film, we note Regan’s leadership style includes: A) Bringing baseball bats to takedowns; B) discreetly lifting bits of stolen loot for himself; and C) less discreetly sleeping with subordinate officer Nancy Lewis (Hayley Atwell), who happens to in the dying throes of a failing marriage to an Internal Affairs cop (Steven Mackintosh) already predisposed to despising Sweeney on general principle.

A violent jewelry store robbery leads Regan to suspect the involvement of a villain from his past. But when the Sweeney arrests him and his gang, Regan comes to suspect he has been played. After a post-bank robbery shootout, Regan is sidelined, leaving his vengeful partner George Carter (Ben Drew, a.k.a British rapper Plan B) to get justice, Sweeney-style.

To be honest, it took me two attempts to get through this movie. At first, I was stymied by a combination of Winstone’s impenetrable yobbo accent plus his early love scene with 31-yearold stunner Atwell. Winstone is 56 and has a pot belly. I happen to fall into Winstone’s age/weight demographic, but even I was put off.

On my second go-round, though, I found my appreciation of the movie was actually enhanced by using the DVD option of "hard-of-hearing" English subtitles. Once you understand what Winstone is actually saying, the movie starts to feel less like a baffling foreign film and more like a solid English variation of the Robert De Niro/Al Pacino crime thriller Heat, especially in a climactic running gun battle staged in Trafalgar Square.

The movie elicits the combination of toughness and dark wit that distinguished the best British gangster fare of the ’70s such as Get Carter and The Long Good Friday, even if it doesn’t quite reach those sublime heights.

Three stars out of five


The Sweeney

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The Sweeney

Hyde Park on Hudson

DIRECTOR Roger Michell seems positively woozy with nostalgia for the patriarchal golden age of 1939, when press photographers never shot the polio-afflicted President Franklin Roosevelt in his wheelchair and no one would put up a fuss if the prez took a mistress — or two — or three.

Ah, for a time when power meant something.

That, at least, is the take-away from this film that tells two parallel stories of Roosevelt (played with urbane panache by Bill Murray) playing on a common theme of "a special relationship."

The first relationship is the one FDR enjoyed with Daisy (Laura Linney), a "fifth or sixth cousin" who was summoned to Roosevelt’s summer home to offer some womanly diversion at a time when the unrelenting grind of the Great Depression was giving way to the threat of global war. Seemingly a rustic naif, Daisy is quick to intuit her role in providing the president with a little release.

The second story is the formation of a more formal special relationship incorporated when King George VI (Samuel West) comes visiting the Roosevelt estate with the Queen (Olivia Colman) on a diplomatic mission to seek an ally in the inevitable showdown between Britain and Germany.

At least this aspect of the film has a satisfying arc. It almost functions as a mini-sequel to The King’s Speech, with the stuttering Bertie commiserating with Roosevelt over their inconvenient afflictions. If Bertie found a friend in The King’s Speech, he finds a father figure here.

But it is the story of the low-key love affair between Roosevelt and Daisy that confounds. (The affair was discovered when the real-life Daisy’s written memoirs were found under her bed.) Murray may be charming and Linney is the picture of wistful dignity, but one is still left with an uncomfortable dynamic — he is wealthy and powerful and she is impoverished and powerless — that leaves a bad taste in this oh-so-tasteful romp. Two and a half stars

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 11, 2013 C14

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