Jack Regan (Ray Winstone) is a hardened detective in London's Metropolitan police, who, along with partner and confidante George Carter (Ben Drew), uses his unsubtle approach to bring down a gang of bank robbers. His work is hampered when internal affairs starts looking into Regan's many dodgy dealings.
The Sweeney is bombastically engaging and super slick in that shiny modern action-film kind of way, but the 2013 big screen version of the late '70s small-screen procedural falls well short of a spot in the pantheon of TV-to-film adaptations. There’s plenty of muscle in Nick Love’s bloody, boys’ own adventure, but not much suspense and next to no logic.
there is precious little real human interaction on screen
The casting of Ray Winstone as Jack Regan, head tough guy of London’s Flying Squad division ('Sweeney Todd’ in Cockney slang, hence the title), proves a double-edged sword. The burly, foul-mouthed, anti-authoritarian aspect of Regan is tailor-made for the actor in the part made famous by the inestimable John Thaw. But it’s the finer details that hurt the film, like the crucial subplot that has Regan roughly shagging/falling for team member Nancy (a much younger Hayley Atwell) – it just doesn’t rings true. That she’s also the wife of Regan’s professional nemesis, internal affairs puppet Ivan Lewis (Steven McKintosh), pushes credibility to breaking point.
The production does all it can with the premise: A stock-standard jewellery store heist goes bad when a seemingly innocent civilian is killed, execution-style. (It takes these hardened cops a long time to figure out it was, in fact, an execution.) The M.O. points to an old adversary, Allen Francis (Paul Anderson), but his alibi seems tight.
From this point, the story convolutes frantically and all too often incoherently; Regan has a stint in prison (recalling Winstone’s breakout performance in Alan Clarke’s 1979 hardcore lock-up classic, Scum) but is out faster than Lindsay Lohan. (These scenes could’ve been streamlined and/or excised entirely.) Extraneous characters pop up at random to drag the narrative forward; offsider George Carter (a baby-faced Ben Drew, aka rapper Plan B, deserved more screen time) and stuffy divisional head Frank Haskins (Damian Lewis) have their moments, but there is precious little real human interaction on screen.
Love prefers to grind through the shoot-out/beating/car chase tropes in what amounts to his first big roll of the dice on a generic action flick, after a career of steadfastly Brit-centric genre works (The Firm, Outlaw, The Business, The Football Factory). He is clearly a technically proficient craftsman whose skill with tough-man dialogue is evident, but in every other aspect, The Sweeney amounts to little more than a basic Saturday night rental. If there is really a hungry audience out there for a reworking of this rather decrepit old brand, this re-imagining might suffice. For others, don’t bother.