Stop me if you've heard this one: A special police unit operates slightly above the law, making the argument that you have to "act like a criminal in order to catch a criminal." Living so close to the moral edge, some of the officers actually fall over and lead double-lives...corrupt cops on one hand, justifying their illegal actions with the "good police work" that they do otherwise. Usually in these shows/movies, there is a straight-laced captain or higher-up, intent on bringing down the corrupt cops but always falling one step behind. Sound familiar?
That's because over the past decade or so, this has become a common theme in cop shows on TV and in movies, where the old idea of "good cop, bad cop" is made all the more interesting by rolling both the good and the bad into a single individual. Shows like The Shield and 24 come to mind, as they feature "above the law" law men who walk the fine line of what is acceptable and what is not.
This theme of cheering for corrupt coppers is rolled out again in The Sweeney, but to call it "just another" bad cop story would be to not give it its just desserts. It is in fact, based on a popular British TV series of the same name from the 1970s, a show that actually has historical importance for pushing the envelope, despite not being too well known here in the States. Predating many cop shows that followed, shows like The Shield and 24 owe a lot to The Sweeney and most assuredly borrow from its achievements.
But timing being everything, being made and released as a feature-length film in 2013, The Sweeney seems to be arriving on the scene way too late.
Staying true to the series, it follows hardened cop Jack Regan (Ray Winstone) and his special task force for the Metropolitan Police in London, known as the "Flying Squad" (this group is known as "The Sweeney," deriving its name from "Sweeney Todd," which is Cockney rhyming slang for "Flying Squad."). George Carter (Ben Drew) is a friend of Regan's and another member of The Sweeney. Their director Frank Haskins (Damian Lewis, of Showtime's Homeland) is on their side when following a successful take-down of an armed robbery, some of the gold goes missing anyways. When we see that Regan did in fact take this from the crime scene, we know what he is capable of.
DCI Ivan Lewis (Steven Mackintosh) shows up as internal investigator who smells the corruption pouring out of The Sweeney, and Regan particularly. As Regan investigates a serial group of armed robbers, Lewis attempts to uncover Regan's less than lawful ways.
Ray Winstone plays Regan as a hardened criminal who just happens to have a badge. The character is an interesting one and Winstone is hard to look away from. If only any of the other characters were given such development.
Instead, we are forced to follow this compelling corrupt cop through a world that is far less interesting, with other characters doing things that we see coming a mile away. Nothing about The Sweeney invokes originality and the casual viewer won't care that it is based on a TV series that perhaps created some of these character types.
But for what it is, it could be worse. Winstone is strong and the action scenes should satisfy fans of the genre. As a whole, the film is a bit unbalanced and a bit long, but there have definitely been films that are far worse.
That's not a glowing endorsement of The Sweeney, but in a year that has started off miserably slow, it may be the most entertainment we can ask for, at least for a few more weeks. A side note, The Sweeney is being released simultaneously, in theaters and on demand, so enjoy this one from the comfort of your own home. At least you won't regret buying a ticket.
Genre: Action, Drama, Crime
Run Time: 1 hour, 52 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Ray Winstone, Ben Drew, Hayley Atwell, Steven Mackintosh, Damian Lewis
Co-written and Directed by Nick Love (The Business, The Football Factory, Outlaw)
Opens locally on Friday, March 1, 2013 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time