Directed by: Nick Love; Runtime: 112 minutes
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.
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