Good cop thrillers are a dime a dozen, but great cop thrillers can indeed by hard-to-find. What makes a good one into a great one is subject to much debate, but there’s a gritty, hard-boiled sensibility to most of the better ones. You know the kind. They explore cops who – for whatever reason – have been pushed to the edge, forced to adopt a kind of flexible morality when it comes to the manner and methods they go about getting their jobs done. And by ‘getting their jobs done,’ I’m not talking about collecting a paycheck. Rather, I’m speaking about scraping up the scum off the streets and putting them behind bars where they belong. These cops will do whatever it takes to keep their neighborhoods clean, and it’s these cops that – in time – audiences embrace in such a way that they’ll return for repeat viewings over and over again.
For those of you who haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking Dirty Harry Callahan. I’m talking Martin Riggs. I’m talking Jimmy Doyle. And, yeah, I’m talking about DI Jack Regan and DC George Carter of the Flying Squad.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
The rise of violent crime forced London authorities to create the Sweeney Flying Squad, an elite collection of officers trained to go toe-to-toe with the most violent offenders. Jack Regan (played by Ray Winstone) heads it up, along with his right-hand man George Carter (Ben Drew). Together, they’re willing to bloody some knuckles up in keeping the streets clean. But when a master criminal returns from a long absence, events unfold too quickly for the Sweeney to keep it all under their thumb. A major bank heist takes a turn for the worst, and, before all is said and done, it might be the cops on the chopping block instead of the villains!
This is an old school police procedural – the kind where the cops aren’t all that afraid from mixing it up with the heavies – and that’s chiefly because THE SWEENEY is based on a mid-1970’s UK TV show of the same name. As a contemporary revisioning, they’ve kept a lot of the charm of the original – the cops were often shown engaging in borderline illegal (if not illicit) activity in order to catch crooks or stay one-step-ahead. Writer/director Nick Love clearly has some affinity for what that show did, and, thus, he ignites his cast with a script that pays homage to an older but no less effective measure of handling police work.
Winstone is winning as the aggressive lead, but he’s also given the chance to explore a romance with a fellow officer (played by CAPTAIN AMERICA’s Hayley Atwell). While that story doesn’t really have much depth, it’s nice to see the big, burly blowhard trying to come to grips with feelings not quite imbued with the same type of passion. Also, Drew gets good mileage out of a role that, perhaps, was a bit underwritten here; clearly, Winstone captures the lion’s share of the screen time, but Drew manages to flex his chops when the script allows. Think of him as an affordable Tom Hardy.
If there’s any major qualm worth mentioning, it’s that Winstone’s accent occasionally gets in the way of understanding just precisely what he’s saying. I’ve mentioned before (in other reviews) that there are some accents I struggle with, and I have had trouble with Winstone’s in other pictures. Still, it’s easy to brush it aside because this is a strong picture that could’ve given us a few more lines to cement some of the complexity of these relationships (Regan has a regular senior-level informer who gets a few scenes, and I’m never quite sure who he is, who he works for, and how he knows what he knows). Otherwise, it’s a stand-up flick about a bunch of stand-up guys (and a few girls) doing a stand-up job.
THE SWEENEY is produced by Vertigo Films and Embargo Films. DVD distribution is being handled through Entertainment One (E One). As for the technical specifications, the film looks and sounds impressive consistently from start-to-finish, and it’s all backed by some very stylish cinematography of London. To my delight, the disk is packed with special features: there’s an audio commentary with the director and producers; several behind-the-scenes shorts (varying in ranges from a few minutes up to about a half-hour); and even some presentation of animated storyboards for the film’s two big action sequences. It’s a wonderful collection for a film that swept in-and-out of theatres very quickly, so fans should soak it up because they’re great supplementals.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. I can’t recall the last time I had so much fun with a balls-to-the-wall cop thriller, but THE SWEENEY sure hit the sweet spot. My American ears did have some difficulty understanding Winstone’s thick accent, but his gunplay and fisticuffs more than made up for it in the end. It’s the kind of lean, muscular flick Michael Mann used to make before he started going all big names and big budget (not intended as an insult, just an observation), and I’ve no doubt more folks will enjoy this one as it gains wide release on home video. Maybe – maybe – I would’ve liked to tighten up the story in a few places, but to each his own …
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Entertainment One (E One) provided me with an advance DVD copy of THE SWEENEY by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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About the reviewer
What? You don't know enough about me from the picture? Get a clue! I'm a graduate from the School of Hard Knocks! You can find me around the web as "Trekscribbler" or "Manchops". … more