By G. Michael Dobbs
I frequently champion foreign films that routinely go straight to DVD, but should have had a theatrical release and criticize distributors who lack the vision of making these films available to exhibitors.
"The Sweeney" is one of those films. It has all the ingredients to have been at least a modest theatrical success. It's a gritty cop drama with a nicely twisted plot. It has some well-done action sequences and violence.
What's not to love?
Ray Winstone plays Detective Inspector Jack Regan, the leader of The Sweeney, otherwise known as "The Flying Squad," a group of London police officers who tackle robberies and violent crimes.
Carrying baseball bats into confrontations, the members of The Sweeney are known for their use of force, their bending of police procedure and their separation from other units.
Their habits do attract attention from Internal Affairs, which launches a "routine" investigation at the same time the squad in searching for the criminals responsible for a robbery and a murder.
It doesn't help the unit's cause that the lead investigator examining what they do is the estranged husband of one of The Sweeney, a woman with whom Regan is having an affair.
Things go bad to worse when Regan arrests the wrong man for the crime.
Writer and director Nick Love had to walk an interesting line. "The Sweeney" is based on a popular 1970s British television series that ran for four seasons and spawned two feature films. For the fans of the older show, Love obviously had to hit the right notes, while at the same time make the property his own.
Love also had to make a film that viewers, such as myself who have no idea about the television series can appreciate. He succeeds pretty much in that regard, although the start of the film moves pretty quickly and it was initially a little difficult to understand what was going on.
Part of the problem was the dialogue. Love's script uses contemporary British slang the meaning of which is not always apparent. As delivered by Winstone and the other cast members in various grunts and whispers, the message can be lost. I resorted to turning on the subtitles and things were fine after that.
Perhaps that why this film was passed up for a theatrical release, since so many people are put off by subtitles a shame.
Despite the grittiness and realism of the story, Love did fudge a bit in the last scenes to the extent that it made me laugh. And I must admit that seeing grizzled and overweight Winstone as a love interest was also a bit of a stretch.
"The Sweeney" includes some veteran British actors whose faces will be familiar to American audiences such as Damian Lewis currently being seen in Showtime's "Homeland" Steven Mackintosh and Hayley Atwell, last seen here in "Captain America." It's a good cast and they do well.
If police action films are a favorite, then try "The Sweeney."