Furthering the trend of classic TV shows being remade for the big screen, British crime-drama director Nick Love reaches back to the '70s and pulls out a reinvention of The Sweeney: a program focused on a renegade branch of London's metro police who occasionally bend the rules of legality to get results. For these reboots to sustain a reason for existing, they've got to find a way to update the premise for the current climate, such as the modification of conspiracies in Edge of Darkness or State of Play and the technological shifts in Mission: Impossible. While draped in contemporary trappings and suitably acted, with a degree of procedural suspense barreling it forward, The Sweeney doesn't offer a fresh-enough perspective to merit this old-hat retread of antiheroic cops, their slippery targets, and the authorities working to shut them down. The film's only real course of modernization is suggesting that the unit's tactics could be too archaic for the here and now, and it doesn't do a great job of convincing otherwise.
Loosely based on a real branch of London's police force, the Flying Squad, who specialize in thwarting high-profile bank heists and currency trafficking, the division is led by a gristly veteran detective, Jack Regan (Ray Winstone), whose eclectic team aren't afraid of getting their hands dirty if the end justifies the means. Much of The Sweeney focuses on exploring the myriad relationships built around Jack and his division: the mentor-protégé banter between he and his ex-thief partner, Carter (Ben Drow); the battle waged between Jack and an internal affairs investigator, Inspector Lewis, moderated by department head Det. Haskins (Damien Lewis); and the more-than-sex rendezvous between Jack and one of the officers he commands, Nancy (Hayley Atwell), who so happens to be the wife of Inspector Lewis. In the midst of this, they're working to solve a case -- and prevent further crimes -- involving an elusive thief who inexplicably killed a hostage during a low-yield, lower-profile robbery.
The underlying mystery in The Sweeney is little more than a means to an end, though, a dull jumble of deception and scheming in the city that merely give the squad, and those scrutinizing their methods, something to do around the moral grayness, romances, and fears of getting shut down. A lot of talk and bluster occurs about the nature of the police division and their place in maintaining balance, yet the primary case they're working on teeters blandly between a conceivable plan and several other forgettable, disposable crime-heist plots. While that might be part of Nick Love's intention, to give Jack and his team a case that's neither outside the realm of possibility nor something that glorifies their mostly-thankless jobs, it renders into a tiresome experience that goes through the motions -- payoffs, volatile interrogations, late-night sleuthing -- in a way that doesn't reinforce the idea of their methods being indispensable. They're tired attempts to invigorate a scenario we've seen many times before.
Ray Winstone balances the staleness by enlivening his stocky, gruff renegade detective with his own brand of coarseness, transforming him into an intriguing leader. There's no denying that Jack Regan is, in essence, every other loose-cannon cop to appear on-screen: he sneers at authority and conventionalism, lets his salty language get him in trouble, and pulls both literal and figurative triggers without considering the consequences. At least Winstone's edge believably bolsters these traits in the antihero vessel, instead of them being merely token devices created for provocative entertainment value. His authenticity filters to the relationships that fill the department's office and beyond; his earnest connection with a female colleague whose marriage is going down the drain creates a moderate ray of hopefulness between Winstone and a capable Hayley Atwell, while to the tug-and-pull rapport between he and his overseer, Haskins, works well due to how Damien Lewis' authoritative poise plays off Winstone's prickly demeanor.
The components are there in The Sweeney for a charismatic, Cockney-fueled procedural, but the conservative decisions Nick Love makes in relocating the story from the '70s to the current era prevents them from locking together. He constructs the action scenes with a fusion of established crime-heist aesthetics from the likes of Christopher Nolan and Michael Man, somewhere between Inception and Heat; deep-blue cinematography and rhythmic electronic music -- complete with the occasional restrained "brrawwmmnn" -- render stylish action scenes with powerful guns and rogue officers we'd prefer not to get shot. Unfortunately, despite being coherent and constantly moving, the shootouts and plot twists can't shake off the feeling of lethargy left by the dime-a-dozen plot moving them forward, as well as an almost adamant insistence on meeting a quote for genre clichés. Jack Regan and his team need more attention-grabbing crimes to solve than this, better justifications for the knee-jerk, morally-gray tactics that land them in trouble.
Video and Audio:
Slate blues, steely grays, and metallic greens dominate the contrast-rich cinematography in The Sweeney, presented by Entertainment One in a highly-capable and detailed Blu-ray treatment. The 2.35:1-framed photography was built for high movement and calculated coldness, which shows in the steadfast handling of details during the scenes that navigate through London's streets and storage buildings. The movement of chases, both on foot and in cars, smoothly captures every detail in 24fps, occasionally allowing the camera to settle on a close-up on Ray Winstone or one of his crew that impresses with moments of razor-sharp detail, rich black-levels, and subtle light naturalness in how it interacts with clothing and artillery. It's not entirely a cold affair, though: moments in bars and in hotel bedrooms allow dark oranges and reds to comingle with deeper contrast. Taking a few smoother scenes into account, this slickly-styled crime picture looks pretty fantastic.
The big thing to consider with this 5.1 Master Audio track is the audibility of dialogue through the thick accents and quick Cockney language, which bounces between merely serviceable and completely audible in a way that might leave those who aren't accustomed to it a little lost. Other dialogue moments, from those who aren't caught up in the slang, suffer some of the same issues: they're somewhat suppressed in clarity, though still discernible. Everything else is rather terrific, though: gunfire carries a few aggressive slugs of power, car crashes punch at the high- and mid-level arenas, and the pulsating music consistently throbs against the lower end. You've just got to open your ears a bit during some dialogue moments, and the addition of subtitles doesn't hurt, either. Speaking of which, Entertainment One's subtitle track is extremely good, respectfully replicating every nuance of the Cockney language. Barring the tolerance with the dialogue, it's a fine track.
The Audio Commentary with Nick Love and Producers remains highly conversational and laid back in tone, never getting wrapped up in any pretentiousness of their craft and allowing some nuggets of info to crop up during their discussion. They talk about the decision not to shoot The Sweeney in the '70s time period, like the TV show, as well as the photography and how some big stars were once involved in the casting -- such as Tom Hardy and Michael Fassbender. Moreover, they show great appreciation for Ray Winstone's patience and adaptability for the project over five years, and how the journey was difficult for them to realize this labor of love for the director. It could use a bit more core insights and concentrated technical dissection, but it's not too bad.
The slate of extras available alongside the commentary are surprisingly ample, starting with the twenty-five minute, broad-focused Behind the Scenes of The Sweeney (25:41, HD) that mixes interviews with crisp, HD on-set footage. The content covers Nick Love's trepidation with adapting the TV show to a modern setting and how they achieved some of the action pieces, as well as further anecdotes about the budgeted, quick schedule. Along the same lines is Preparing The Sweeney (15:04, HD), which tracks the film's complicated origin over five years through an assortment of interviews, as well as a quick interview piece on The New Regan and Carter (4:19, HD) where Love, Winstone and Ben Drew chat about their characters and how they differ from the '70s series. Two other featurettes take on fairly casual subjects: On the Shooting Range (4:32, HD) shows how the cast members got to know each other over firearms, and Top Gear at the Caravan Park (8:34, HD) reveals how the film's shoot and the TV show built a connection.
The final two pieces on the disc are a pair of brief Animated Storyboard to Screen Comparisons about two key scenes from the film, Trafalgar Square and The Caravan Park, and how they're used for purposes beyond an in-motion storyboard. The lack of a trailer is unfortunate, but everything available here is pretty solid. Disc Two is a DVD copy of the film that contains all of the special features from the Blu-ray disc, as well as similar menu design and the same previews.
The Sweeney takes the well-tread premise of its '70s TV show roots and attempts to reshape it for a modern setting, where capable performances and suitable action shape the events built around a police squad's unconventional, often rough tactics against high-profile heists. The unfortunate thing about Nick Love's passion project is that it offers little to freshen up the weatherworn premise, where many equally mediocre films featuring fast-and-loose, rough-around-the-edges detectives like Jack Regan have been watched and discarded since the show's run. Ray Winstone delivers as the tough cornerstone of the division, and the other actors meet the demands of their roles adequately enough in both action and drama, yet the heist and Internal Affairs investigations aren't enough to carry these old-hat relationships built into a reboot that plays things much too safe. Entertainment One's Blu-ray is great, both its audiovisual quality and the special features, which will make this an ample Rental.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site