If there’s one thing you can say about Nick Love it’s that he knows his audience. Just as Kevin Smith makes films that first and foremost pander to his fan base, so too does Nick Love. And so his latest film is everything you would expect from a Nick Love movie – broiling machismo, excessive violence and boundless use of the ‘C’ word. Critically, you would have to say he’s not developed much since 2004’s The Football Factory, but his fans really don’t care. As far as they are concerned, his films always deliver and, from that point of view, The Sweeney does, too.
Having already covered mobsters, outlaws and ‘ooligans, this time he’s switched his focus to the rozzers. Based on the classic 70s British TV cop show, created by Ian Kennedy Martin and starring John Thaw and Dennis Waterman, The Sweeney is about the exploits of an elite unit of the Metropolitan police force known as the Flying Squad (if you know your Cockney rhyming slang, the department’s nickname, that gives the film its title, is clear).
Updating the story to modern times, Winstone plays the hardboiled leader of the division, Jack Regan, a kind of Gene Hunt throwback to the 70s’ hardman, while singer-songwriter-turned actor Drew represents the more modern police officer in George Carter. The plot has something to do with a villain from Regan’s past returning to mix it up with his old sparring partner, while Internal Affairs investigates the Squad’s less than legal activities. But none of that really matters. This film is really about Regan and Carter kicking criminals’ heads in, getting pissed, shagging birds and shouting “You slag!” whenever the opportunity allows, which is frequently.
There’s no denying that The Sweeney has some style; the opening sequence (and introduction to the characters) is probably about as perfect as it could be, and there’s a thrilling shootout in Leicester Square that’s reminiscent of the incredible heist sequence in Heat. For about an hour, the film grabs you by the Alberts and doesn’t let go. But then the threadbare plot begins to unravel, the characters become more obviously one-dimensional and the action plodding and clichéd. There’s also something very British and charming about the fact that the film ends with a car chase between a Ford Focus and Jaguar sports saloon in a caravan park, but on the other hand, it doesn’t really say “action blockbuster”, does it?
The Sweeney falls into that middle ground – vastly enjoyable in parts, teeth-grindingly annoying in others. Love doesn’t completely smack the granny out of The Sweeney, but at least he straps in and goes for it, providing just about a good enough ride in the process.