Movie Review: “The Sweeney”

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Movie shoot-outs are often dazzling feats of marksmanship. Few filmmakers have the guts to show their version of “Gunfight at the OK Corral” the way such gunfights actually go down — dozens of rounds, most  missing the mark — pistols popping off, incessantly, their owners unable to hit the broad side of a crook in the heat of battle.

That’s one thing the two-fisted British crime drama “The Sweeney” gets absolutely right. In a running gun battle, the pistol packing coppers are at a distinct disadvantage to “villains” toting semi-automatic weapons. And neither has much luck at hitting ducking, moving non-civilian targets who are shooting back.

“The Sweeney,” based on an influential British TV show of the ‘70s, is a down-and-dirty genre picture that manages a couple of decent plot twists, a couple of passable car chases and two epic shoot-outs. The Brits may be decades behind the French in the car chase game, but director Nick Love has studied his Michael Mann (“Heat”) and learned how hard-boiled men and women of violence look, think, fight and shoot.

“The Sweeney” are cops, men and women who live for the adrenalin rush of the chase and the tussle, the satisfaction of the arrest,

“We’re The Sweeney. You’re nicked.”

They’re working class and coarse –a flying squad of violent crime detectives who still go by their unit’s bloody Cockney nickname, “The Sweeney,” slang for Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

The charismatic Ray Winstone is their leader, Jack Regan, an “any means necessary” brute with more than a hint of corruption about him. Not that he cares.

“We got the villains, didn’t we?”

He’s carrying on a sordid affair with a fellow cop who is also the wife (Hayley Atwell) of an Internal Affairs officer who’d like nothing more than to shut down the flying squad. Jack runs roughshod over his boss (Damian Lewis) and makes a point, after a big bust, of closing down the pub with his crew.

“World’s runnin’ out of men like you, Jack.”

Then a jewelry store robbery ends with an execution, and Jack & Co. (Ben Drew is his young protégé) become obsessed with catching the villains who did it, willing to risk each other, scores of innocent civilians and prison terms to get their guy.

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The film takes repeated “didn’t see that coming” turns, which help. Director Love gives it an R-rated ‘70s look and feel, from the rough and tumble men’s room sex to the immediacy of the violence. But he’s as bad as any Hollywood hack at not showing the collateral damage of a shootout in crowded Trafalgar Square. And the script (he co-wrote it with John Hodges) loses track of most of the squad, and is overflowing with silly expediencies and the odd eye-rolling “You were right all along” apology.

Winstone, growling, sneering, threatening villains and dating WAY out of his league but plainly able to through sheer macho and charisma, makes up for that. He sees to it that Regan and his not-so-sharp-shooters are the most believable, dangerous cops the screen has seen in ages.

(Roger Moore’s interview with Ray Winstone is here.)

MPAA Rating: R for violence and language throughout and some sexual content

Cast: Ray Winstone, Hayley Atwell, Damian Lewis

Credits: Directed by Nick Love, written by John Hodge and Nick Love. An eOne release.

Running time: 1:52

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