Judge Clark Douglas employed a terrible Cockney accent when creating the audio version of this review.
Our review of The Sweeney: The Complete Series 1, published July 27th, 2010, is also available.
Act like a criminal to catch a criminal.
Facts of the Case
Detective Inspector Jack Regan (Ray Winstone, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) is a man with a reputation for getting the job done. He's taken down an impressive number of bad guys over the course of his career with "The Sweeney" (a special unit of London's Specialist Crime and Operations branch), but he's also begun raising the ire of his superiors. An atypically large number of lawsuits have been filed against The Sweeney, and there are even reports of money mysteriously disappearing from crime scenes. Soon, Jack and his department are being investigated by Detective Chief Inspector Ivan Lewis (Steven Mackintosh, Luther), a pencil-pusher with a personal grudge against Jack. Making matters even more complicated: Jack is currently conducting an affair with fellow Sweeney member Nancy Lewis (Hayley Atwell, Captain America: The First Avenger), who just so happens to be Ivan's wife.
In the midst of this departmental drama, a new case pops up that demands Jack's attention: a woman is brutally murdered during a jewelry store robbery, and Jack thinks there may be more to the story than meets the eye. Soon, The Sweeney is hot on the trail of a ruthless killer. However, in order to catch the bad guy, Jack and his cohorts may be required to make some serious ethical compromises.
What goes around comes around, I guess. When the British television drama The Sweeney appeared in the 1970s, it was like nothing else on television: a gritty, realistic cop drama that replaced sanitized heroics with a show that offered intense depictions of sex, violence and moral ambiguity. The show proved a huge influence on American cop dramas ranging from NYPD Blue to The Shield, but now we live in an era where such depictions of life on the streets are remarkably commonplace. As such, Nick Love's big-screen update of The Sweeney feels curiously old-fashioned; it's a film that goes through the same old motions we've seen a hundred times before. It's not bad, as such things go, but the film's tough-as-nails vibe feels less like real-world grit and more like action-movie posing.
There are moments when the plot almost plays like a parody of gritty cop dramas. The central character is an alpha male who doesn't play by the rules. His professional rivals are the pencil-pushing internal affairs guy who's always trying to get him to follow the rules and the cautious police chief (a woefully underused Damian Lewis, Homeland) who tries to reign him in for his own good. Yes, Jack eventually goes rogue after being forced to turn in his badge, and yes, there's a development that causes the case he's working on become extra-personal. The usual periodic car chases and shoot-outs are present, and Love helms them competently enough given his budget limitations (one chase was even filmed in collaboration with the popular BBC program Top Gear). The only thing missing is a scene where Jack grumbles about being too old for this $#!% (though in fairness, that scene was probably being saved for a sequel).
Still, if you can look past the film's lack of originality (which was perhaps an inevitability given the nature of its source material), you'll discover that The Sweeney's lead actor manages to make the whole thing surprisingly engaging. Ray Winstone remains a tremendous, distinctive presence, and his brutish performance is another winner. Winstone plays Jack like a slovenly Harry Callahan; a man who divides his time between chasing bad guys, bedding a married woman (those who complained about Katherine Heigl being paired with Seth Rogen in Knocked Up will surely be even more mortified by the fact that Hayley Atwell is required to act as if Ray Winstone is a dreamy hunk—truly a remarkable piece of acting on her part) and getting completely wasted. The actor delivers his lines with a whiskey-soaked growl and commands every scene he appears in. The supporting players are stellar (especially Ben Drew, a.k.a rapper Plan B, as Winstone's young acolyte), but it's Winstone's movie.
The Sweeney (Blu-ray) offers a stellar 1080p/2.40:1 transfer that does a nice job of highlighting the film's grimy London locations. The film has a muted, somewhat grainy look that is appropriate for the material, and the level of detail is terrific throughout. Blacks are impressively deep, which is important given the number of darker scenes on display. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track has a whole lot of kick, delivering some room-rattling sequences and generally opting for an aggressive approach at every turn. Thankfully, the dialogue is dialed up, too, and never gets overwhelmed by the sound design (though viewers unaccustomed to thick British accents may have trouble now and then). The supplemental package is decent, too. You get an audio commentary featuring Love and a number of the film's producers, but you're better off checking out the engaging featurettes: "Behind the Scenes of The Sweeney (25 minutes), "Preparing for The Sweeney (15 minutes), "Shooting in Trafalgar Square" (15 minutes), "The New Regan and Carter" (4 minutes), "On the Shooting Range" (4 minutes) and "Top Gear and the Caravan Park" (8 minutes). Finally, you get some animated storyboards and a DVD copy.
As I've never had the opportunity to check out the original TV series, I can't honestly say how much The Sweeney will do for fans of the show. For newcomers like myself, it's a reasonably well-crafted, well-acted and thoroughly predictable cop drama that doesn't quite do enough to distinguish itself from the rest of the pack. Not bad, but hardly essential viewing.
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