Without familiarity of the program, we can’t speak as to the fidelity shown by this latest screen adaptation from director Nick Love. Though if the spirit of the show was preserved, it can be said that "The Sweeney" likely hasn’t aged well, and the film version seems to have arrived well past its sell-by date. “The Sweeney” is so knee-deep in its spirit of generic cop procedurals, shady advocacy of police brutality and hard-boiled B.S. dialogue that you’ll spend the first half hour wondering if this is some poker-faced parody. How else to explain the presence of Winstone, a fantastic actor a good decade too old for this role as gruff top cop Jack Regan? Huffing and puffing through foot chases, Winstone displays substantial strength despite looking as if he’s never spent a single day at the gym that couldn’t be improved by a rewarding ice cream sundae chaser.
Most of "The Sweeney" is built around the central relationships surrounding Regan. His disciple is George Carter, a young kid from the streets who’s made good on the other side of the badge. Giving this character a bit of unpolished charisma is the rapper Plan B, here going by Ben Drew. While he also looks like he’s never laid weights onto his tiny frame, his lack of polish and boyish handsomeness makes a nice counterpoint to Winstone’s unstoppable slab of meat.
Lending an implausible amount of gravity to the situation is Emmy winner Damian Lewis as Sweeney boss Frank Haskins. Lewis, good sport that he is, has to play a character that remains oblivious to the very obvious negligence of The Sweeney right under his nose, attempting to add a layer of humanity to the familiar role of exasperated chief. Lewis, like the rest of the cast in this genre exercise, maintains a semblance of dignity, though it’s safe to say you probably saw his, "YOU’RE OFF THE FORCE!" moment coming a mile away. All criticisms aside, it’s impossible to hate a good YOTF moment, though it just cements this film as the sort of project that would star a British version of McBain.
Likely due to its roots, "The Sweeney" feels episodic, with the crew heroically descending upon some baddies before learning they broke the rules for the wrong suspects. Such is the tension that sets in as pressure mounts from above and below, as the search for the real perps collides with the deeper investigation into the crew’s actions. This rings false because, even if you don’t know the origins of "The Sweeney," you know judging by the thumping theme music, the shiny title logo, and the ineffectual impotence of the suits and their investigation (literally, in the case of the cuckolding of Nancy’s husband) that this is a foregone conclusion. Up until the very very end (which uncorks a CLASSIC cop cliché that seemed long dead by now), "The Sweeney" is straight dumb procedural, no chaser. [D]