One of Britain's most beloved classic television shows has fallen victim to the gluttony of remakes. From 1975 to 1978, 'The Sweeney' dominated the airwaves in the United Kingdom. Violence had never been depicted on British television in the manner that 'The Sweeney' showed it. The series primarily followed two central characters, officers Jack Regan and George Carter, both members of an elite crime-fighting police force. The series was gritty, yet entertaining and even fun. Sadly, the new motion picture remake is none of the above.
For the remake, the filmmakers chose not to feature the aged stars of the original or to set it in the 1970s. Instead, the filmmakers have modernized the story and setting. While it features the same characters, their dichotomies have been altered, and new actors have been cast to play them. 'The Sweeney' plays out with characterizations not unlike those of the Tom Cruise 'Mission: Impossible' movies – the story revolves around a tight-knit team, but there's definitely a central character, the leader of the pack. In the film, the leading Regan character is played by Ray Winstone, who is significantly older than his television counterpart. Regan is the leader of the "Flying Squad," a multi-man (and woman) team of tough-as-nails cops who bring down criminal organizations. Although no one specifically carries the title of "number two" or "right-hand man," Carter is it. Played by Ben Drew, Carter grew up on drugs and crime, but was handpicked and turned around by fatherly figure Regan – hence the age difference. The only other member of squad that's given a decent amount of coverage is Nancy (Hayley Atwell), the busty 30-year-old who has neglected her Internal Affairs husband and is sleeping with Regan, the boss that's twice her age and weight.
The film starts with the team raiding a warehouse that's in the middle of being robbed. What are the thugs after? Gold bullion. Male or female, we watch each member of the "Sweeney" team kick bad guy ass. As this sequence comes to a close, we see Regan staring at the small gold bars on the ground. We don't see him actually take any for himself, but we soon see him selling them to a friend. In the original series, Regan bent the rules, but he certainly wasn't crooked. The movie unsuccessfully takes liberties in this area and actually makes him an unlikable lead. First, he steals gold bars for personal gain. Second, we see him having sex his married colleague in the bathroom of a pub. The original series painted him as a frustrated character, but he's simply a prick in the movie. He respects no one – not even his superior (Damian Lewis), the only non-team member who always rushes to his defense and goes to bat for him. Carter's young and reformed – but still bad ass – character is much more interesting, entertaining and likeable, but he's just a co-star.
The story gets rolling when Regan's team investigates the robbery of a jewelry store in London. The tools used to commit the heist are recognizable from a multiple offender that Regan has put away at least twice. This time, the assailant has murdered an innocent female worker, so Regan is blood thirsty. The investigation that follows is annoying because the characters are oblivious to the facts that the audience can piece together from the get-go. When reveals are brought to light, I found myself smacking my forehead and uttering "duh" because of how long I'd already known this information. If the screenwriters expected to shock and surprise audiences, I'm insulted.
'The Sweeney' isn't trying to be an ambitious film, so it's surprising how little of it actually works considering how basic it is. It's obvious that the filmmakers were going for a Guy Ritchie 'Snatch' feel, but none of the fun translates. Characters are flat. Hand-to-hand fight scenes are so generic, bland and unstylized that most are no fun to watch. The climax features a car chase that finally brings 'The Sweeney' up to the level that we want (thanks to the folks at BBC's 'Top Gear'), but quickly fizzles out and ends anticlimactically. All of these misfires and more cause 'The Sweeney' to drag. 112 minutes isn't a relatively long film, but at this snail's pace, it certainly feels long.
It's depressing when a movie with potential fails to live up to it, but it's even worse when a movie can't even match the level of the genre's most generic entries. That's where 'The Sweeney' lies, in that just-below average area.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Entertainment One has given 'The Sweeney' a combo pack release that includes a BD-50 and DVD of the film. Both discs are housed in a blue eco-Lite Vortex keepcase that, when opened, reveals a screenshot of the film printed on the back of the cover art sheet. A matte cardboard slipcase is included that carries artwork identical to that of the cover art. Upon inserting the disc, you are forced to watch an FBI warning prior to skippable trailers for 'Wish You Were Here,' 'Special Forces' and 'Cosmopolis.'
'The Sweeney' has been given a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that's presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio. A flaw will immediately catch your attention the moment it starts, but luckily it's the only big one and it only pops up from time to time.
The opening credits sequence flashes quick images from inside an evidence room. It fades in and out of black like a flashlight passing over the objects in an obscure darkness. Banding runs rampant. Fortunately, this isn't a precursor of things to come. Several other instances warrant bands, but not many. Aside from that, the video quality is quite nice.
London's gritty underbelly apparently features colors mostly muted by fluorescent lighting. Some scenes are vibrant with color, but not many. For example, when the squad raids the warehouse, the robbers don explosively blue matching jumpsuits. (I can only imagine that this was done to distinguish the good guys from the bad.) When Regan and Nancy pop into a drug-running pool hall to find a lead, the reds of night club lighting become dominant and overly saturated. When the occasion arises, colors can be impressive.
For the most part, fine details and textures are present. They're not consistently strong, but even the weak scenes aren't tragically bad.
'The Sweeney' has been given a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that's quite impressive. The first aspect to catch my attention was the dynamic mixing of the score. Although it seems like a rip of Hans Zimmer's 'Dark Knight' trilogy scores, it sounds fantastic. The film opens with a series of violins humming from every channel, the rears being just as active as the others. The musical mix never disappoints, filling the room and eliminating dead space.
The vocal mixing is quite good, but a tad bass-heavy. Every single male character's voice has a resonant quality that's a little too over-the-top. This overly bassy quality also carries over to some of the effects. Although driving slightly better-than-average Fords, the squads cars sounds just as rumbly as high-performance muscle cars. Every blow to a body or a face packs a bassy punch.
The effects are also very well mixed. When the warehouse is first raided, the blue jumpsuit bad guys fire off a few shotguns into the air. The blasts ring through the wide open space, echoing off the concrete floor and the sheet metal walls. These sounds are equally bounce through the audio channels. As the police inspect crime scenes, the off-screen sirens, radio chatter and other investigatory sounds are mixed throughout. The only effect that I was looking for, but didn't notice, was imaging.
As much as I wanted to like 'The Sweeney,' I couldn't help but feel bored by it. Based on a popular 1970s television series, the story has been modernized and updated, but the writers failed to make it anything more than an extra long episode of a procedural cop drama. I wanted it to be a playful, fun, gritty, and bad ass British crime flick, but it didn't warrant a single one of those four adjectives. Instead, it's a slightly sub-par genre flick that treads along for too long thinking that the audience isn't very smart. Anyone can piece together the clues and solve the mystery at least 60 minutes before the film's characters. Both the video and audio qualities are strong, but not good enough to make 'The Sweeney' worth watching again. The special features are mild, generic and repetitive, but I'd take them hands down over the commentary track. Without an introduction to the players (I still have no clue who the participants were), direction or professionalism (multiple people are constantly speaking at once), it's easily the worst commentary that I've ever heard. Unless you love the original series, I don't recommend watching 'The Sweeney.' A rental at best.