After a successful classic UK series and two appreciated film versions from the late 70s, director Nick Love has turned his sights to The Sweeney for his latest film, an overly glossy heist cop drama that is certain to satisfy unquestioning palettes that know how to enjoy a well staged show. A conglomeration of style and pastiche over veritable substance, there’s a lot to enjoy from Love’s treatment, mainly a likeable cast led by an ever intimidating Ray Winstone, yet its slight and simplistic narrative can’t escape feeling like an overlong episode from your pick of a plethora of past and current like-minded television series.
After orchestrating yet another successful robbery bust in London’s unceasing underground crime world (albeit using brutally violent tactics), Regan (Ray Winstone), leader of the Metropolitan Police Flying Squad, known more commonly by their nickname, “The Sweeney,” so named for that famous demon barber, seems to be at the top of his game. His best friend and partner, Carter (Ben Drew of Plan B) is the youngest member of the crew, an ex-con turned copper. And then there’s the fresh faced Nancy (Hayley Atwell), carrying on a torrid love affair with Regan while her marriage to internal affairs officer, Ivan (Steven Mackintosh), is in shambles. In fact, her indiscretions may be part of the reason that Ivan has set his sights on investigating the Sweeney’s unorthodox tactics with the hopes of dismantling the violent crew once and for all.
When a brutal murder takes place during what should have been a small time jewelry store robbery, Regan and his team seem to finally have stumbled onto a case that’s more difficult to crack then they had anticipated. When Regan arrests and brutalizes his top suspect, Allen (Paul Anderson), an airtight alibi suddenly has Regan scrambling to find convincing evidence, compromising not only his reputation but that of the Sweeney as well. Struggling to stay within his legal limits, this murder case spins quickly out of control, changing both Regan and his indefatigable team forever.
At its best, The Sweeney is a fast paced action flick with some exquisitely shot chase sequences, in particular, a frenetically breathless gun battle in Trafalgar Square. With its dubious championship of old school ruffians like the Regan character and obvious admiration for brute violence even with its muffled attempts at self reflexive criticism, the film often feels like a politically incorrect throwback, only one that hasn’t been written memorably enough to warrant it a spot in the nostalgic canon of action flicks past. The film proves to be at its most ridiculous with a brackish romantic subplot between a gruesomely pot-bellied Winstone and ingénue Atwell, the twenty five years between them more than evident in their leaden sex scenes, even with the presence of her equally unbelievable marriage to the Mackintosh character constantly referenced as the worse of her two romantic options.
Singer-songwriter Ben Drew of Plan B gets a large amount of screen time as Winstone’s ex-ne’er-do-well sidekick, but he never quite gets a resonating moment, his presence a pale comparison here to his own directorial debut with 2012’s iLL Manors. One doesn’t have to be familiar with the 70s television show or the previous films to enjoy Nick Love’s turn of the screw, but as easily enjoyable as The Sweeney tends to be, it’s also as easily forgettable.