Movie Review: The Sweeney

By Matthew Huntley

February 11, 2013

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That’s the question, and eventually Jack connects the incident to a notorious criminal (Paul Anderson) but comes up short with evidence. His boss (Damian Lewis of TV’s “Homeland”) tells him he’s in a heap of trouble for causing such a ruckus and giving internal affairs another reason to shut the Sweeney down. All the while, Jack is trying to start something serious with Nancy beyond just hot trysts at the Holiday Inn. It’s only after the same robbers strike the private bank that the plot suddenly thickens (although not very interestingly) and the bullets start flying.

At this point, The Sweeney begins to lose its edge over its fellow crime story brethren. An elaborate shootout sequence takes place across Trafalgar Square, and even though it’s exciting to a degree, it’s an obvious ode to, or perhaps imitation of, the famous downtown L.A. shootout Michael Mann employed in Heat. It’s a good 15 minutes long, and while it’s well staged and crafted, we’ve seen others like it and therefore it doesn’t yield the same freshness and spontaneity. The ensuing plot is also lackluster and could have just as easily been an episode of “CSI,” right up to the auto-pilot ending, which makes it easy for anyone who’s ever seen a crime drama to call things out before they happen. We get the usual care chase and that classic contrived moment when a character comes to and fires off a crucial shot at just the right second.

Fans of the genre probably won’t have a problem with anything I’ve just described, and I don’t think there’s anything overtly bad about The Sweeney, but part of me feels cheated because I was hoping that because it revolves around a specialized police unit, the movie itself would be more special, perhaps show or tell me something unique about the world of commercial armed robberies and what goes into investigating them. Once I learned what the Sweeney was, I was anticipating the screenplay would reach beyond just a traditional good guys vs. bad guys showdown in which the hero is unfairly accused of wrongdoing then vindicated in the final act because it turns out he was right all along.


Director Nick Love sets the film up to be something different but then settles on a routine execution. Soon enough, the characters stop having distinct personalities and are simply molded into archetypes whilst taking part in traditional shoot-outs and chases, the likes of which have been done to death. Granted, they’re done well, but they’ve been done.

The Sweeney, ultimately, is safe entertainment. It’s never boring and even amusing at times, and Winstone has a commanding presence, but my lasting feeling is the filmmakers wasted their opportunity to take their subject matter, characters and high production values into uncharted territory. When the film started out, I was eager to see what it was going to tell me about the Sweeney and how this particular police unit is different from others depicted in the movies. By the time it ended, it had simply blended in.

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