I had to look this up, but the term “Sweeney” is Cockney rhyming slang, alluding to cops. A nickname for police officers is “flying squad.” Squad rhymes with Todd. As in Sweeney Todd. So the cops are The Sweeney. I think you have to be Cockney to understand it.
The Sweeney, directed by Nick Love, is based on a cult British cop show from the 1970s (which has gone unseen by me). This film version is the UK equivalent of Americans making a film version of, oh, S.W.A.T.. It's also about as high-concept a film as S.W.A.T., complete with all the dumb story twists and grizzled, sawed-off urban noir archetypes that we've seen in just about every derivative cop drama since the 1950s. In short, it's a typical passable-afternoon-at-the-movies, but with an edge of class, thanks to its British imprimatur, and the presence of the whirlwind-like Ray Winstone in the lead role. Winstone plays Jack Regan, the head of a special department of the police force in charge of – as far as I could tell – beating people up; He and his team are only called in when crimes are in progress, and it seems to be their job to charge in at the last minute, engage in a shootout, and savagely pummel anyone who resembles a criminal. This doesn't ever sit well with their boss (Damian Lewis), or the investigating IA guy (Steven Mackinstosh).
Jack is kind of a horrible guy who, decked out in leather jackets and sporting a pair of ever-clenched fists and a five o'clock shadow that starts at noon, seems to resemble a criminal thug more than a cop. He seems uninterested in investigating, preferring to punch first and, well, never bother to ask any questions. What's more, he's having a torrid affair with his gorgeous co-worker Nancy (Hayley Atwell from Captain America: The First Avenger), who is married to the aforementioned IA guy. Eep. Winstone does his best to bring some heft to the role, but I couldn't shake off the feeling that Jack was a pretty typical airport novel fantasy hero for lonely male travelers; i.e. amoral, efficient, tough, and able to bag hot chicks. I'm sure this character, though, was carried over from the 1970s TV show; there is a distinct dated vibe to Jack. Which, when looked at in a certain light, can actually make him seems richer.
The story is obvious and pat. There is a robbery at a local jewelry store, and the thieves, without warning, executed one of the shoppers on their way out. It takes the cops the bulk of the movie to figure out what the audience was able to intuit in a second; that the executed shopper was connected to the thieves. The story then becomes about figuring out the identity of the thieves, and why they murdered that poor woman when they didn't need to. I'm tempted to say The Sweeney was intended to be a character study rather than a story-heavy crime mystery (a good third of the movie is devoted to Jack's bad behavior and the consequences thereof), but at a hefty 112 minutes, the story eventually takes over, leaning heavily on usual exposition and predictable plot twists. Indeed, some story tropes become so obvious, you start predicting actual lines of dialogue to yourself with reasonable accuracy. There's even a scene where a character has a teary confession right before an action sequence, and you know in your heart that that character is about to be snuffed out in the ensuing gunfight.
The film is just stylized enough to register as above average, but on the whole it's pretty forgettable – the kind of film you describe as “interesting,” while walking out of the theater. The best thing about the flick remains Ray Winstone. The man is a bulky and forceful screen presence – a tragic beastly badass – whose every violent, bloodletting move speaks more than the script ever does. He is always a pleasure to watch. I just wish he had been in a more, well, interesting film.
Witney Seibold is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel, co-host of The B-Movies Podcast and co-star of The Trailer Hitch. You can read his weekly articles B-Movies Extended, Free Film School and The Series Project, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.