Blu-ray Review: The Sweeney

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Throughout The Sweeney, writer-director Nick Love’s stylishly gritty British crime thriller, I was constantly reminded of Vic Mackey in The Shield. Indelibly portrayed by Michael Chiklis, Mackey led the Strike Team, a police unit that operated above, beneath, and generally outside of the law. In The Sweeney, badass Ray Winstone (unforgettable in 2000’s Sexy Beast) stars as Jack Regan, leader of a special unit within London’s Metropolitan Police service called the Flying Squad. Cockney rhyming slang matches Sweeney Todd with Flying Squad, hence the nickname for the crew.

Regan and the other Flying Squad members know exactly how to bend, twist, and break all the rules in order to catch their crooks. I mention the similar methods depicted in The Shield for good reason. The Sweeney, in fact, is rooted in television. The movie is an adaptation of a British television series of the same name that aired 53 episodes between 1975 and ’78. In fact, Winstone himself even made an appearance on the show early in his career. The new film plays very much like a solid pilot episode for a television show that isn’t to be. In recent years, some of the best crime drama has occurred in episodic television. The Shield exemplified this kind of a borderline-criminal policing, but imagine if it never went beyond its first season premiere?

SWEENEY Ray_Winstone_Stephen_MacintoshSM (350x146).jpgThe Sweeney has some excellently staged, rock ‘em, sock ‘em action sequences. It hooks us from the beginning with a gold heist busted by the Sweeney. When not all the gold is accounted for, some fingers are pointed at Regan. That’s not to say Regan is a dirty cop. In fact, he and his co-ed group hold themselves to a high standard of integrity. Finding out the details of their methods is a crafty highlight of the film. When a jewel robbery results in a callous, unnecessary murder of a young woman, Regan becomes obsessed with solving the case. He ends up paying a high price, professionally and personally, along the way.

Though some of the Cockney accents are nearly incomprehensible at times, the cast does a superb job. Winstone carries a formidable presence, counterbalanced by Ben Drew (also known as rapper and singer-songwriter Plan B) as Regan’s right-hand man George Carter. Hayley Atwell (Captain America: The First Avenger) is sexy and tough as Sweeney member Nancy Lewis, also Regan’s married love interest. Director Love paces the film in fits and starts, adding to the feeling that these characters might be better served in an episodic format. As the story plays out, it becomes painfully obvious we won’t get to know these characters below their surface. The story could’ve been much tighter. At 112 minutes, the whole thing eventually manages to slightly outstay its welcome.

SWEENEY Ben_DrewSM (350x233).jpgEntertainment One’s Blu-ray looks exactly as a modern, high definition production should. The Blu-ray presents a perfectly clean transfer of the digitally-shot film, dominated by dark grays and blues. It’s always sharp and detailed. Even the clusters of white hair on the back of Winstone’s hefty torso are readily visible, as are the age spots on his beat-up looking mug. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix actually goes above and beyond for a modestly budgeted film. This is an incredibly aggressive, immersive soundtrack. Car crashes, gunfire, and various other noisy occurrences blast out with crisp highs and resonant bass. Lorne Balfe’s score is also well distributed amongst the channels, with lots of support in the rears.

Fans of the film will love the extras package assembled here. Audio commentary with multiple participants (they all just kind of jump in, hard to say who’s who) is available, though I found it a bit unlistenable with all the overlapping speech and laughter. There are over an hour’s worth of behind-the-scene featurettes, including a decent 25-minute making-of and shorter pieces focusing on more specific elements of the production. There are also a couple short animated storyboard sequences for key action scenes.

The Sweeney is mildly recommended for fans of action-driven police procedurals. Solid production values, a strong cast, and several exciting action set pieces set it above average in terms of the genre. But it would’ve made a better start to a new TV show.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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