If the Metropolitan Police are hoping to get away from their image in some sectors as oppressive cowboys with a penchant for shooting people they don’t need to, The Sweeney isn’t going to help the cause. The film takes the stereotype of the old school, rulebook ignoring cop and ramps it up the nth degree. Indeed it’s more the cliché of the original 1970s TV series it’s based on than anything close to the series itself.
Jack Regan (Ray Winstone) is that no-nonsense cop, who believes in shooting first and asking questions later, doing whatever it takes and most importantly being derisive of any superiors who tell him he ought to calm down a bit. He’s also busy having an affair with a much younger, married squad member (Hayley Atwell), and passing down his approach to his protégé, George Carter (Ben Drew).
Regan and his team start to investigate a jewellery shop robbery where one of the criminals needlessly shoots one of the hostages before leaving. Things get more difficult for Jack when the cop husband (Steven Mackintosh) of the woman he’s sleeping with comes sniffing around, keen to rein in Regan’s violent methods. As the investigation deepens and Jack refuses to budge from his take-no-prisoners attitude, his career and even freedom come under threat, particularly after a disastrous shootout on the streets of London.
The Sweeney is an entertaining but immensely stupid film. Normally with no-nonsense cops you’re on their side as those trying to stop them seem more interested in playing by the rules than catching the criminals – however in The Sweeney I couldn’t help feeling that Steven Mackintosh’s character is right. Regan is a danger to himself, his team and the public. If the police were really like this, there’d be daily news reports about the number of innocent bystanders they were responsible for the deaths of and questions asked about why so many policemen die because no one seems to have trained them in the best ways to avoid bullets.
It’s not a case of the higher-ups getting in the way in The Sweeney – they really ought to get Jack off the streets due to his callous disregard of his colleagues and the general public. However the film wants us to side with this man, which is often quite difficult, no matter how much they caricature the bad authority figures and make Mackintosh’ dislike for Regan seem like snivelly bureaucratic manoeuvring rather than the reasonable attitude it is.
Luckily the film has Ray Winstone in the lead, who may be playing a ridiculously over the top character whose machismo is off the scale, but he’s always very watchable and ensures the film is watchable and sometimes exciting, despite how irresponsible its ideas often seem. And while Ben Drew – aka Plan B – is sometimes a little too low key for his own good, he’s serviceable in what is definitely the most interesting role in the movie.
The Sweeney also looks good, with director Nick Love spending his fairly modest budget on a glossy look and fast pace – although that said, this is probably the only movie that would pay out for a huge shootout in Trafalgar Square, The Mall and St. James Park about halfway through the film, and then set the finale in a caravan park.
If you’re prepared to overlook the innate stupidity of the film and the fact Regan isn’t so much old school as criminally reckless and obstinately inflexible in the face of reason, there are plenty of good moments in the movie and it certainly keeps moving along at a fast pace. I just hope no one watches this and thinks this is what the police are really like, or indeed what they should be like, because if every copper was like Jack Regan, it would be a genuinely terrifying society we lived in.
Overall Verdict: By taking the old school cop cliché to the extreme, The Sweeney undoubtedly comes across as being immensely stupid and indeed socially irresponsible, but underneath that there’s a pretty watchable thriller.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac