If you like Ray Winstone and the kind of films he tends to make, you’ll probably like The Sweeney, as it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Based on the ’70s TV series of the same name, it’s a refreshingly uncomplicated and enjoyably violent police drama. It’s nothing special and not terribly memorable, but it’s fun while it lasts.
Jack Regan (Winstone) and George Carter (Ben Drew) are members of the Flying Squad, tasked with dealing with armed robbery and violent crime in London. When a robbery at a jewellery store ends with one of the robbers executing a civilian for no apparent reason, Regan and Carter become determined to find out what happened. Meanwhile, the Flying Squad’s reputation for violence has provoked an inspection, which threatens to close them down.
Winstone has a deserved reputation for playing the sort of hard man character he plays here, and he does it as well as he ever does. Admittedly playing Jack Regan is no great stretch for him, but he’s so good at playing this kind of character that it’s hard to complain. He spends most of the film either scowling or shooting, and the highlights are definitely in the latter category. When director Nick Love has the restraint to put away the shakycam and let us see what’s going on, the action scenes are very good, with the standout being an extended chase and shootout through Trafalgar Square. Aside from the aforementioned shakycam, which is only really an issue on a couple of occasions, the only real complaint about the action is that the final car chase does go on a bit too long. The Sweeney isn’t especially creative action, and certainly doesn’t compare to the likes of The Raid from earlier in the year, but it’s enjoyable enough.
Given the strength of Winstone and the action, it’s a shame that the script is somewhat lacking: the plot is very standard stuff, offering very little in the way of surprises; if you’ve seen pretty much any other police drama you’ll know what to expect here. The dialogue isn’t great, but the cast are committed enough to it that it’s not a particular problem. Unfortunately, the only character other than Regan who’s given any length of time in which to build up a personality is Ben Drew’s Carter, which results in the considerable talents of Damian Lewis and Hayley Atwell being largely wasted. Each is good in their role, but it’s a shame they weren’t given more to do, particularly Atwell. I realise that The Sweeney was Man TV and is now a Man Movie, but I wish the only female character in the film had more of a reason to be here. I can’t reveal the thing that especially annoyed me about the way her character was written because it’s a major plot point, but suffice it to say she only really exists for the sake of that one plot point.
The Sweeney is not high art, nor was it ever supposed or expected to be. It’s a very straightforward cops vs. robbers action movie, and in that regard it’s mostly a success. As long as you’re not expecting it to be anything more, which you shouldn’t be, you’ll probably enjoy it. A little more attention to plotting and character would have gone a long way, though.