At the Movies - ‘The Sweeney’ review

Ray Winstone as Jack Regan.
Ray Winstone as Jack Regan.

Nick Love’s ‘The Sweeney’ is worlds apart from that of the 1970s series that starred John Thaw and Dennis Waterman.

The Sweeney is a flying squad and is part of the London Metropolitan Police; such squads exist to combat major armed robberies and violent crime.

Director Nick Love (‘The Firm’, ‘The Business’ and ‘The Football Factory’) sticks pretty much to the main plot and that is to focus on the world of the Sweeney’s two most senior officers, Jack Regan and George Carter.

Alas, I didn’t even exist when Thaw’s Regan and Waterman’s Carter found their way into countless living rooms from 1975 to 1978 but one thing’s for sure - Love’s big screen version is dark, unforgiving and unapologetically modern.

Replacing Thaw as Regan is perennial cockney geezer, Ray Winstone (‘Nil By Mouth’, ‘Sexy Beast’ and ‘The Proposition’), and taking over from Waterman as Carter is Ben Drew (Harry Brown) a.k.a. singer-songwriter, Plan B.

Soon after the television style opening credits have been and gone, we are thrown into the middle of an armed robbery.

The Sweeney arrive on the scene with a literal crash and a bang and during a violent exchange of fisticuffs between Carter and one of the robbers, Regan conveniently arrives to utter the wonderfully sounding phrase, ‘We’re the Sweeney sh*t-head. And you’re nicked’.

Love and co-writer John Hodge (‘Trainspotting’, ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ and ‘The Beach’) have set the scene perfectly and instantly the audience know that, led by Regan, the Sweeney are not to be trifled with and they are prepared to use the most unorthodox of methods to bring would-be criminals to justice.

An excellently-filmed sequence gets the plot up-and-running by showing how it takes the same time for a young child to complete a sprint race as it does for a team of bank robbers to raid a jewellers. However, things go badly wrong when a civilian is executed. Enter stage right, Regan and Carter.

Regan’s years of experience lead him to believe that a well -known criminal has come out of retirement after being away for years.

Regan’s instincts appear to get the better of him when he soon realises that his prime suspect has the perfect alibi.

The death of the civilian gives Regan and his team even more of an incentive to solve the case but their job isn’t made easier by the suspecting eyes of internal affairs detective, Ivan Lewis (Steven Mackintosh - ‘Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ and ‘Luther’).

‘The Sweeney’ is certainly a decent attempt at reinventing a once popular television series but there are casualties along the way.

First to feel the full impact of the cinematic law is Ben Drew.

It’s a mixed bag of a performance from Drew, who was impressive in the 2009 movie ‘Harry Brown’.

When it comes to the exchanges with Winstone’s Regan, Drew is certainly found wanting but he is most adept during some of the action sequences and his aggression is almost tangible.

Drew, at times, looks more like a man modelling clothes for Top Shop than he does a Detective Inspector but there’s no doubting the chemistry he shares with Winstone.

Hackney-born Winstone brings exactly what you’d expect him to bring to the role of Regan.

Winstone’s performance, whilst enjoyable, makes the most Cockney of Cockney sound like Kate Middleton but he gets away with it.

The Sweeney’s triumph is its action sequences - they completely blew me away.

In particular, there’s a shootout that starts off in Trafalgar Square and spills over in the National Art Gallery - it really is fantastic and Love deserves special credit.

Despite the scene’s clear references to other cops and robbers movies it’s gripping, loud and domineering; however the marksmanship of all of those involved was last seen in ‘Police Squad!’ starring Leslie Nielsen.

And if that wasn’t enough to whet the appetite, then there’s a remarkable car chase at the end involving a Ford Focus ST and Jaguar XFR.

‘The Sweeney’ is definitely worth a watch - the action sequences alone make it worth the admittance fee - but a lacklustre script and predictable plot development let it down.

‘The Sweeney’ is not a crime against cinema but it definitely comes with a suspended sentence!

The Verdict: 3/5 - ‘The Sweeney’ promised very little but ended up delivering on so many unexpected levels. Yes, the performance of Ben Drew could be better, Ray Winstone is so London he is in danger of becoming a caricature and the script is disappointing, but the action sequences are amongst the best I have seen all year and if you manage to get past the aforementioned transgressions then it makes for an entertaining movie.