The opening scene of The Football Factory (2004) director Nick Love’s The Sweeney (2012) features a frenetically-paced – and unarguably entertaining – bank heist that packs a series of high-octane punches, all vaguely reminiscent of Antonia Bird’s Face (1997). However, what initially promises to be a thrilling tale of gangsters and morally-dubious coppers on the mean streets of ‘Landan’ rapidly disappoints as the weak, hackneyed script betrays the high production values of this British crime caper.
Drawing from the cult 1970s TV show of the same name, this big-screen update of The Sweeney sees Jack Regan (Ray Winstone) and George Carter (Ben Drew, aka Plan B), two corrupt Flying Squad police officers, hunting down a vicious criminal gang. Within mere minutes of the film’s opening, Winstone delivers a series of unavoidably cliched lines – from “You’re nicked” to “We’re the Sweeney” – likely to be met with a mixture of laughter and audible groans amongst cinemagoers. It soon becomes apparent that Love, here, has opted for an awkward tonal balance of gritty crime thriller and self-aware buddy movie.
The nation’s capital is all polished glass and steel, with cinematography that effectively manages to capture the beauty of the city at night. Yet, whilst the look of the film pleases, the laborious and dull story fails to entertain. What Love has achieved on a reported budget of just £3 million is undeniably impressive, especially a Heat-esque shoot-out sequence in Trafalgar Square. But as impressive as this is in practical terms, the result in narrative terms is disappointing. Gunfights erupt every five minutes and cars hurtle around corners at equal pace, yet the action never really feels either immersive or thrilling.
There’s a constant niggling feeling throughout The Sweeney that it would have made a better TV reboot than a feature film. Fans of the original show will find only snippets of the series’ cheeky humour, replaced now with a darker tone that simply fails to convince. Much like the film itself, Winstone walks a tightrope as both comic clown and brooding on-the-take cop, with his performance, hindered by too many shots of his banana-yellow underpants as he sleeps with women well above his pay grade.
The film’s major flaw is that the concept worked a lot better in the 70s – perhaps because of its lighter tone, but also because a pandemic of corruption was rife in the police force. There are half-baked attempts to deal with this problem, including constant references to Regan being a ‘dinosaur’, but even so, it’s hard pill to swallow. With the action never quite strong enough and the story far too dull, The Sweeney may well fail to please both fans of the original show or new audiences. In the words of Regan himself, it might have been better if they had all just “Shut it”.