“The Sweeney” is a pretty conventional cop drama by the standards of the genre. It’s got all the requisite stuff: car chases, shootouts, beatings (lots and lots of beatings), killer crooks and authority-defying coppers running afoul of uptight internal-affairs types.
The picture is based on a 1970s British TV series (which inspired two earlier movies, starring series members) of an actual unit. It’s been updated to the present day and made much more harsh by director/co-writer Nick Love (John Hodge shares screenplay credit).
What sets it apart from the run-of-the-mill is, for one thing, borderline impenetrable accents. These coppers are members of the London Flying Squad, aka The Sweeney. They’re street-level enforcers whose patois is so thick that even though what they’re speaking is English, the picture could use some English subtitles to help U.S. audiences figure out what the heck they’re talking about in between the chases, shootings, beatings, etc. The talk gets more intelligible over time as you become accustomed to it.
The other thing that sets “The Sweeney” in a class apart is Ray Winstone.
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On-screen, Winstone is a very tough nut. Burly and brusque, there is something coiled and preternaturally menacing in him. In his best performances, he radiates such a threatening vibe that he doesn’t have to say a word to make your hair stand on end. And his grim, glowering work in “The Sweeney” ranks up there with his best.
He plays Jack Regan, the leader of the squad. Regan is ethically challenged in some respects — adultery and a bit of larceny stain his résumé — but he also gets results. He and his people (particularly his young, slightly more ethical partner played by Ben Drew) do get their men, and those men have the bruises, lacerations and gunshot wounds to prove it.