The Sweeney review

Modern-day updates of awesome old TV shows have been something of a mixed bag in recent times, with many promising much but then actually being all that good (I am looking at you The A-Team).  Joining the ranks of the decent but not great is this update to the 70s British cop show The Sweeney.  The original had John Thaw and Dennis Waterman chasing down London’s meanest criminals while not always employing strictly legal means.  Nick Love’s update takes those principles and characters and transports them to the gleaming metropolis that is Canary Wharf and The City of London as we follow the new Reagan and Carter (Ray Winstone and Ben ‘Plan B’ Drew) as they beat London’s criminal underbelly over the head with baseball bats.

The first thing to notice is that London has never looked so shiny.  This is set almost entirely around Canary Wharf and its towering glass skyscrapers.  There has been a very conscious effort here to paint London as a more American style city and there are plenty of shots that wouldn’t look completely out of place in Nolan’s Batman films.  The plot involves our two heroes attempting to track down the perpetrators of a jewel heist which involved the execution of a young girl.  As the Sweeney attempt to track down the murderers they also have to deal with some trouble a bit closer to home in the shape of Steve Mackintosh, whose character is tasked with investigating the allegedly dodgy methods of the Flying Squad.  It also just so happens that Reagan is sleeping with his wife Nancy, played by the beautiful Hayley Atwell.  With all that potential drama waiting to unfold it is something of a shame that what could have been an exciting and enjoyable jaunt, knocking out “slags”, actually turns into a fairly bland, textbook trudge through a number of buddy-cop film cliches, which obviously includes the “gimme your badge” scene from every cop film ever.  It also boasts what must rank as one of the least sexy sex scenes ever committed to film, the fact that it involves Hayley Atwell is sheer testament to Ray Winstone’s cumbersome and laboured attempts in the bedroom.    

One thing that the film does have going for it are the action sequences, Nick Love manages to channel some Michael Mann, most noticeably in the bank heist sequence which spills out onto Trafalgar Square.  The action here is loud and very slick and this scene is clearly the highlight of the film, I was left somewhat bored by the climax which takes place in a caravan park.  Away from the action, the script is largely dull and uninspiring with very little in the way of humour.  Unless of course line’s like “We are the Sweeney, shithead” or “Put your trousers on, you’re nicked” cause you to erupt in a fit of giggles.  I shouldn’t give them credit for the “trousers” line anyway as it was lifted from the original series.  There are also a number of plot threads which are left somewhat unresolved or discarded, but as this is a straight-up action film that can almost be overlooked.  Ray Winstone and Ben Drew are both perfectly decent in their roles, while Paul Anderson is not given anywhere near enough to do in the villain role.  Damian Lewis and Alan Ford are also criminally underused.

This is quite possibly the most “Hollywood” British action film yet and while it sets it apart from your standard London gangster flicks, it does mean it is taking on the might of the American action films and up against these behemoths it is most certainly found wanting.  With a better script, less Ray Winstone sex and more Damian Lewis this could have been a really good action-romp, instead it’s decent action doesn’t make up for it’s lack of character.

The Sweeney at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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