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Nick Love directs this big-screen modern-day revamp of the classic British 1970s television series. Ray Winstone and pop star Plan B (aka Ben Drew) star as Regan and Carter, the iconic cop duo played by John Thaw and Dennis Waterman in the original version. Car chases and shoot-outs abound as the two Metropolitan police detectives tackle the low-lifes of London.
For more about The Sweeney and the The Sweeney Blu-ray release, see the The Sweeney Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on March 26, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Ray Winstone, Damian Lewis, Hayley Atwell, Steven Mackintosh, Ben Drew
Director: Nick Love
» See full cast & crew
The Sweeney Blu-ray Review
The Demon Coppers of Fleet Street.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, March 26, 2013
London's East End can be a maelstrom of culture shock and incomprehensible discussions—and that's just from the native English speakers. The so-called Cockney dialect is one of the "thickest" accents in English, to the point that it's not uncommon for even other British to wonder exactly what a Cockney accented speaker is saying. (This comes from personal experience. When I ventured into East London as a kid one day, a very heavily accented young man asked me something and I had absolutely no clue what he had said and probably looked completely befuddled. Some extremely well heeled businessman, obviously a speaker of the Queen's English, saw the interchange, looked at me and said with impeccable elocution, "Don't worry, I can't understand a word of what he's saying either". It was probably a joke, but the moment has stuck with me for years.) Perhaps it's at least a little more understandable, then, how The Sweeney got its name. This 2012 film is based on a popular 1970s ITV television series that documented the adventures of a real life police unit nicknamed The Flying Squad. In what is known as Cockney rhyming slang, a slang whose rules would be disparaged by such purists as lyricist Stephen Sondheim, "Sweeney Todd" is an appropriate rhyme for "Flying Squad", and thus the colloquial appellation of the unit became known as The Sweeney. There may be a more subliminal connection as well, though, at least as outlined in this new film iteration, namely that at least some of the cops in The Sweeney are rather thuggish, carrying around baseball bats with which to beat the bad guys into submission. It may not have quite the visceral impact of a razor to the neck, but the result is often more or less the same. In its original television version, The Sweeney (which starred future Inspector Morse John Thaw) was a fairly rote police drama that posited laudable heroes bringing down a variety of criminals. This was in fact fairly ironic, since the actual real life Sweeney was rife with corrupt policemen, several of whom ended up in jail themselves. This new Sweeney is perhaps intentionally linked to that troubled time, for in this version, lead cop Jack Regan (Ray Winstone, Beowulf, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) is a decidedly more shaded character, one not immune to lifting a few gold Krugerrands from a crime scene in order to pay off an informant or even bedding the wife of one of his superiors. He's also prone toward violence, something that pushes him ever closer to the edge of questionable behavior throughout the film and does in fact ultimately lead to his imprisonment—at least for a little while. If The Sweeney never quite escapes its television roots, often playing like a slightly slicker and better produced version of any given police melodrama that wafts over the pond courtesy of Masterpiece Theater, it still has moments of excitement and is graced by some excellent performances.
The pre-credits sequence which opens The Sweeney sets up the often manic pace that the rest of the film will follow. An obviously well orchestrated heist of Krugerrands is underway while the film repeatedly cuts to two sets of police in various vehicles (one of the policemen is none other than Downton Abbey's Branson, Allen Leech, once again playing an Irish outsider ironically first seen driving a car). The cops are "rating" the new fiancée of one of their cohorts, and so it's not immediately clear how they play into the gold theft, but then suddenly both vehicles zoom into the crime scene and a completely over the top melée ensues, with lots of gunfire and vicious smack downs courtesy of those high tech billy clubs mentioned earlier. A foot chase is also part and parcel of the sequence, with a knock down drag out fight between a cop and a bad guy, until the bad guy's head is thrust through some drywall, at which point Jack grabs him from behind (his arms thrusting through the same drywall from the room behind the combat site), telling the villain in no uncertain terms, "You're nicked. We're The Sweeney". It's fun and exciting, but it's also pretty much exactly what you'd expect to see in a television series trying to quickly establish its premise as well as its title, and that is an aspect that never totally fades from view as the film progresses.
The main plot arc of The Sweeney deals with The Flying Squad's Jack Regan (Ray Winstone) and underling George Carter (Ben Drew) and their attempts to both solve a baffling jewel heist that included a murder as well as thwarting what they've been tipped off is an imminent strike against a tony private bank. Of course both stories end up being interlinked, and also play into Regan's propensity to (both figuratively and literally) shoot first and ask questions later, especially when he singles out an ex-con named Francis Allen (Paul Anderson) as the mastermind behind the jewel heist and killing, when it turns out Allen evidently has an airtight alibi.
The Sweeney tends to bog down in its second act with some unnecessary melodrama involving Regan's married mistress (Hayley Atwell), but picks up considerable steam in its third, when Regan finds himself in prison with seemingly every possible odd stacked against him. There are some hyperbolic action sequences in the film, though they're a bit on the silly side. One of the biggest is a gigantic shoot out in Trafalgar Square. The fact that so many bullets are expended with not one (or at least virtually not one) finding their target becomes ludicrous after a while, not to mention the fact that the police are shooting willy-nilly with a glut of stunned civilians standing around wondering what's going on.
There's a grittiness to the film that is quite appealing, but in the long run, this feature adaptation simply can't quite escape its television roots. Part of this may be due to the film's rather paltry budget (writer-director Nick Love is repeatedly on record throughout the commentary and featurettes decrying a "mere" two million pound budget). But the film is also structured very much like a made for television movie, replete with cliffhangers right where the commercials might be placed. The best thing about this Sweeney is the hardscrabble performance by Ray Winstone, who completely makes over Jack Regan in his own disheveled and morally questionable image.
The Sweeney Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Sweeney is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Entertainment One with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.40:1. This film was shot with the Arri Alexa and for the most part sports superior fine object detail and a crystal sharp image. Love has intentionally color graded large swaths of this film, of course opting for the cool blue hues which seem to be de rigeur for police dramas these days, and that choice does tend to suck at least a little fine detail out of the image at times. While contrast is strong and stable, a lot of the film takes place in darker environments, some of them evidently using only natural light, so there are some very minor issues with shadow detail and clarity in those segments. Aside from some almost negligible stability issues on establishing shots of the London skyline, there are no other artifacts to report.
The Sweeney Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Sweeney features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that is quite bombastic quite a bit of the time. The film is awash in excellent surround activity, not necessarily limited to the big action set pieces. Even the offices of The Sweeney feature really good discrete channelization of dialogue and various ambient environmental effects, creating a nice sense of aural depth. When the film does get to its action sequences, things really explode, with good use of LFE both in the shootouts as well as the big car chase that caps the film. Dialogue is cleanly presented, though those Cockney accents are awfully thick at times, meaning you might want to have your subtitles on the ready. Fidelity is excellent and dynamic range is extremely wide.
The Sweeney Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Sweeney Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Sweeney will probably appeal most to those with some connection to the original television series. Others may find this film too rote and slight to ever really have much impact, but even those folks will probably be impressed by Winstone's take no prisoners approach to the role. This Blu-ray looks and sounds fantastic and comes replete with excellent supplementary material. With caveats noted, Recommended.
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The Sweeney Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray: April 2-9 - March 31, 2013
For the week of April 2nd, Magnolia Pictures is bringing John Dies at the End to Blu-ray. The film is an adaptation of the cult horror novel, which - as developed by David Wong (the pseudonym of Cracked senior editor Jason Pargin) - does not immediately lend itself ...
• The Sweeney Comes to the U.S. - February 18, 2013
Entertainment One will release a combo pack edition of director Nick Love's The Sweeney (2012), starring Ray Winstone Hayley Atwell, and Damian Lewis. The release will be available for purchase online and in stores across the nation on April 2.
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