Aggressively coming at you from across the pond with high-speed chases, intense interrogations and gunfights throughout, The Sweeney hits every police action-flick note.
The movie, which is a remake of a ’70s British TV show, centers around the police-run Flying Squad, nicknamed “the Sweeney,” as it fights armed robberies throughout the city of London. The Sweeney consists of ex-criminals and tough guys who operate under the idea that you need to act like a criminal in order to beat the criminals. They come in, guns blazing, and often get their man while leaving their unfortunate supervisors behind to clean up the property damage.
The movie opens with the Sweeney smashing through a wall and confronting a group of criminals in the act of committing a robbery. The group gets the bad guys — but only after they destroy the wall and are left standing between piles of rubble.
When a series of connected robberies start to hit London, the Sweeney finds itself in a showdown with a mastermind criminal. The movie isn’t remotely shy at all about hitting all the cop movie cliches. Grumbling supervisors take away guns and badges, sketchy informants are visited in shady bars and criminals are chased in the streets. (The car chases specifically are notable for being coordinated with help of the acclaimed U.K. TV show Top Gear, and the quality of the scene is apparent.)
You get the sense that the film relishes the opportunity that these tried-and-true cliched scenes provide. Many scenes begin by lulling the audience into a sense of I’ve-seen-all-this-before and then suddenly throw out a surprise, giving the audience a quick jolt.
An early scene comes to mind: A criminal and a team member end up separated from the main fight and their weapons are kicked away in the scuffle. The two belligerents fight to get the gun that is just out of reach. The bad guy ends up against the wall with his Sweeney adversary in front of him.
The baddie smirks and pulls a knife out of his pocket, while the policeman’s face starts to show fear. It’s a scene that has been filmed a thousand times. As the knife is being raised, however, two hands smash through the wooden wall behind and the baddie is nicked. (“We’re the Sweeney, you’re nicked” was the catchphrase from the original TV series, which is the only real knowledge from the series that would improve the experience of the movie.)
Ray Winstone, who is 56 but looks at least 10 years older than that, continues the curious recent trend of older action stars fighting and beating up much younger bad guys, such as Liam Neeson in Taken or Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables. He plays Jack Regan, the absolute pit bull of a man leading the Sweeney. He’s fat, foul-mouthed and hyper-aggressive. At various times, he’s downright unlikable, but, at the same time, it makes him much easier to believe than most others in the older badass role. When one sees Stallone or our ex-governor Schwarzenegger running around, deadpanning jokes in their Hollywood tans, it’s always a bit hard to suspend disbelief. Winstone, with all his growling and scowling, doesn’t have that problem at all. An old, grizzled tough guy, he might not always be the most relatable, but he is compelling. It is difficult to take your eyes off him.
Additionally, what Winstone lacks in relatability is balanced by English rapper Ben Drew, who plays the Sweeney’s second-in-command. Drew’s supremely likeable, performance balances out Winstone’s gruffer dynamic. The rest of the cast is similarly peppered with fine British actors, most notably Damian Lewis of Homeland and Hayley Atwell of Captain America.
The Sweeney takes a lot of influence from the Guy Richie-type of British crime films, such as Lock Stock, Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, as there is cockney rhyming slang throughout and actors from those movies play key supporting roles. Those movies managed to show the camaraderie between a team working to break the law while simultaneously maintaining a very comedic base.
The Sweeney does similarly, though from the other side of the law.
The movie is truly very funny at times, (though some of the jokes are difficult to pick up through thick cockney accents) and the story manages to find some depth beyond the action. It doesn’t really matter though. The top-notch action and Winstone’s cannonball-to-the-chest of a leading man make the film worth watching.