Directed by: Nick Love
Produced by: Allan Niblo
Screenplay by: Nick Love
Story by: Nick Love
Based on: Characters by Ian Kennedy Martin
Starring: Ray Winstone
Music by: Lorne Balfe
Cinematography by: Simon Ellis
Editing by: James Herbert
Studio(s): Vertigo Films
Release date(s): September 12, 2012 (United Kingdom)
February 14, 2013 (Australia)
February 21, 2013 (New Zealand)
February 28, 2013 (Germany)
Running time: 112 minutes
Country: United Kingdom
Production budget: £3 million
Box office revenue (as of publication): $7, 080, 489
Rightio folks, I've got my crazy mutt of a twenty-one month old yellow labrador on the couch beside me, so I'll do my best, but don't expect me to be able to devote all of my attention to obeying the proper grammatical conventions of rhetoric here. Not that I'm too good at keeping to it at the best of times anyway. This review will be followed by a Review Of The Month for September, seeing as how I'm backwards at doing things and I don't give a shit if it is most of the way through October. Speaking of October, as I've mentioned, I've been scouring the straight-to-DVD cheapy barrel, and I'm going to start using all my cinema freebies, so expect a wad-load (saves me saying shit again! Whoops!) of films for October. I've already got started with After Dark Films' Transit, and I've been to see ParaNorman in The Strand, so, ladies and germs, as ever, keep your eyes posted!
So today's film that'll be getting the proverbial prognosis is The Sweeney. The film is directed by Nick Love, director of works such as The Football Factory and The Business. Now, his films have not got the best of critical reception to put it lightly, and granted, he doesn't help himself with things like that ridiculous audio commentary on Outlaw, but he is an interesting filmmaker who doesn't deserve the flak that he gets. This is a bit of a pet project for Love, who has been trying to get his adaptation of the 1970s television series starring John Thaw and Dennis Waterman made for a number of years. It stars Ray Winstone as Jack Regan and Ben Drew (aka Plan B) as his partner George Carter. Damian Lewis, Hayley Atwell and Steven Mackintosh round out what is, certainly in a UK film, an all-star cast. I'm not getting into plot synopsis, so lets get right down to it!
Speaking of the cast, this is a terrific line-up, with just about everyone playing their role well. Thank goodness there's a no-show from Nick Love regular Danny Dyer, who just would have stood out in this group like a sore thumb. Ray Winstone is solid as ever playing Jack Regan, and if you're going to get someone to play this part, it should be him. He carries a raw and rugged quality to him, making his good cop by way of bad cop routine work well, but importantly he never forgets to inject Regan with a sense of pathos and humanity, without fallowing into over-dramatic territory. Also strong is Ben Drew, whose character of Carter really could have been fumbled or miscast (I'm thinking of a Mr Dyer), but Drew has a natural confidence in his abilities, bringing a unique edge to Carter that plays well off of Winstone. Another character that could have been poorly presented is Hayley Atwell's Nancy Lewis, but Atwell makes her charming, sexy and engaging, and her natural screen presence subtly proves once again that she is one of the fastest rising female actors in the world. In lesser capacities, Steven Mackintosh and Damian Lewis fill out their roles well in their given screen time, without taking away from the central cast and doing their job properly. Much words of praise must be lavished on The Sweeney's production value. Of course, films made with American backing have far larger budgets, but at a £3 million pounds affair, even by UK films standard this is for all intents and purposes a low-budget film. So, it is with great pleasure that I get to see a pretty full-on action movie that matches the big-budget Hollywood affairs in terms of intensity, and the fact is that the effort that is made in the film's design and that it is so well-shot on location (by cinematographer Simon Dennis) that I would have guessed it to be a movie budgeted at around the thirty to forty million mark. It is a testament to the good job that director Nick Love has done that the film is able to be this convincing despite it's low-budget and make us care about what's going on and not how dodgy the sets might look. Also, I've read during the course of my research that the £3 million pound budget was provisional, and that Love managed to bring the final production costs under £2 million pound. Not only is that an incredible achievement in production efficiency, but the fact that it does not come at the detriment of the film and stop me from being convinced is really something. This is a technically proficient film, and it shows the control and strengths that Nick Love has as a director.
There is much to be admired about The Sweeney, but it does not come without its problems. Nick Love is an interesting writer-director, but this is one of those cases were it would have been wise to bring in another collaborator to work on the script. Love's intent is obviously to make it feel something akin to Heat, a big, sprawling epic with a story that takes a long time to unravel in the diegesis. However, instead it feels too much like something episodic, and that too much is being crammed into a two-hour film. Also, because there is so much going on this short space of time, it has a paradoxical effect in that it feels way longer than two hours. Most movies would do better to take after the example of Dredd, a smaller story that is an exercise in structural efficiency and gets everything done in a snappy ninety minutes. Here, it feels like it is dragged out too long. Also, no surprises here, I wasn't fussed on the music. I respect the fact that this does at times feel like a big-budget movie, and indeed, The Sweeney could tackle many of them full on, but the score here, which sounds too much like a compilation of work from Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, is just out of place and doesn't work. (Incidentally, just found out in my research that Lorne Balfe did work in various capacities on the Nolan Batman trilogy, and has worked on numerous occasions with Hans Zimmer, so the similarities perhaps aren't coincidental) It is consistent a presence in the film, and really takes away from the legitimacy of the drama unfolding. I wanted to get more involved with the film, but this score (yes, reeking of EHO!) was like a phony underscore that ran throughout and denied it that greater sense of being.
These things being said about a script that requires some rewriting and music that is way out of kilt with the rest of the film, The Sweeney is a good film. It has a terrific ensemble cast, with Winstone, Drew and Atwell stand-outs. Also, the film has excellent production value, especially given that it is such a low-budget affair, by both Hollywood and UK-film standards. Much of this can be put down to the cinematography by Simon Dennis and on top of the strength and directorial confidence of Nick Love. Say what you will about the script, he has done a good job of maintaining the singular goal of making a quintessentially British action movie. He faced issues with studio executives, who wanted to Americanise the film, but Love stuck to his guns, casting all-UK actors and shooting every scene in the UK. Proof that you don't need to be armed with a big-budget and James Bond to make a UK blockbuster.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.4/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Bloated (an indulgent weekend of alcohol, loud music and junk food will have to be neutralised by some hardcore gym sessions during the week!)