While under scrutiny from Internal Affairs for their unorthodox methods, maverick Flying Squad detectives Jack Regan (Winstone) and George Carter (Drew) investigate a combined robbery and homicide.
Inquiries turn up a familiar felon, but their suspect has the perfect alibi..
If you're a director with a reputation for making old-fashioned, violent, male-orientated movies who wants to move away from all that, is it smart to launch the new you with a 'reimagining' of the most violent, male-orientated British TV series of the '70s? Surprisingly, Nick Love's take on Thames TV's - for its time - quite cinematic cop show delivers more than it promises.
The language is coarse and the action harsh, but this is not a macho fantasy basking in retro glories.
It stretches logic, and its script is its biggest weakness, but it's an attempt to do something genuinely different within a very rigid format.
To start with the downside:
If you ever thought Hannibal Lecter's cell-slash-dungeon was a little on the medieval side, you'll have the opposite problem here. Regan's (Ray Winstone) team of one-step-up-from-vigilante thugs work in a fishtank of grey, glass and green, veering uncomfortably close at times to a kind of chimps' tea party being held at the Shard.
And in keeping with a film that is struggling to be modern, it often sounds awkward in its old East end language, rife with yoo-wots and, most jarringly, yoo-slaaags.
On the up? Love has made serious headway here. The editing in the film's key robbery scene is exemplary: in the time it takes Carter's (Ben Drew) son to finish a school race a jewellery store is robbed, in a scene ending with a brutal, callous murder. Over and done. And the characters are so much more nuanced than in Love's previous films; in the love triangle here, Winstone's couldn't-give-a-fuck detective is definitely the third wheel, pleading desperately with the younger, married, kick-ass love interest as opposed to the other way round. But most of all, the film really moves, from the kinetic open-air Trafalgar Square shoot-out, to the climactic car chase.
The unexpectedly ingenious honey-trap plot also ticks along nicely, and though Ben Drew's wide-eyed sidekick doesn't always seem worthy of the trust Regan puts in him, there's a definite chemistry here. The subtext - the nanny state needs to get tougher - borders on Daily Mail territory but is admirably underplayed. In fact, the only thing truly criminal about The Sweeney is the chance missed to revisit Harry South's brilliant, jazzy original theme, in itself a swinging, bold-as-brass fusion of new and old.
The action's arresting but the dialogue's not much cop in this well-played and enjoyable hardboiled British police thriller.