They say Britain and America are separated by a common language, and on the Rotten Tomatoes page for The Sweeney (where it scores 46%), many American critics complained that it was difficult to understand the heavily accented characters. One Australian reviewer even wrote that he wished the movie had been shown with subtitles.
Fortunately, you have that option when you watch the film on Blu-ray, and that’s what I find myself doing with some British films (Sexy Beast, for example). After the first ten minutes of The Sweeney, a 2012 film based on a popular British police TV drama from the 1970s (yes, the Brits do it, too) I gave in and turned the English subtitles on. It turns out to be be a much better movie when you can understand what the characters are saying.
Indeed, The Sweeney is a pretty solid action film, thanks mainly to the presence of the great Ray Winstone as Regan, an officer with London’s Metropolitan Police “flying squad.” Charged with investigating murders and other violent crimes, Regan isn’t shy about threatening and roughing up his suspects. His partner (Ben Drew), a childhood thug who went straight and joined the police as an adult, is Officer Friendly by comparison.
The squad are investigating what appears to be a routine jewelry store heist that inexplicably ended with the point-blank execution of one of the customers. Regan is certain that it’s a career criminal he’d arrested several times before, who had fled to the Balkans, but it’s not clear why he’d return for such a small-time job – or why a seemingly innocent woman was shot in the head just as the thieves were leaving the store.
Meanwhile, because of the Sweeney Squad’s rough methods – not to mention its bloated budget (much of it apparently spent on ultramodern offices in the middle of London), Internal Affairs is sniffing around. The inspector doesn’t yet know that Regan is having an affair with his estranged wife (Hayley Atwell), but that probably won’t help matters much.
The Sweeney is an incredibly good-looking film, considering its modest £3 million budget – barely a rounding error by Hollywood standards. Director Nick Love and cinematographer Simon Dennis apparently filmed most of the movie through blue filters, and it makes the normally beautiful city of London look stark and menacing. The dearth of extras in most scenes – presumably a side effect of the low budget – actually adds to the atmosphere. Love also stages some very effective action scenes, including a shootout that starts in Trafalgar Square, continues into the National Gallery and ends in a parking garage.
At first, the film appears to take a somewhat ambiguous position on Regan and his squad’s tactics, before inevitably coming down firmly on their side. That’s too bad, because when you really think about it, Regan’s recklessness is actually responsible for many of the disasters that befall his team and his city, including the shocking death of a major character. Some of the film’s “twists” are also telegraphed pretty far in advance, too. (The primary villain, who had returned to Britain from Montenegro, appears to have an ironclad alibi – but considering that another character being investigated is from Serbia, which used to be part of a country called “Serbia and Montenegro,” you know they must be related somehow.)
Still, thanks mainly to the tough, charismatic and often hilarious Winstone, The Sweeney is worth a look – even if (like me) you haven’t seen the TV show on which it’s based, or if you have to watch it with subtitles.
The Blu-ray (which comes in a combo pack with a DVD, but no digital download) looks and sounds sensational, and eOne has packed in plenty of extras – a director’s commentary track, animated storyboards, and several behind-the-scenes featurettes, including one showing how the producers cooperated with the Top Gear team to film a car chase. (The Stig’s Serbian cousin, alas, is nowhere to be found.)