When The Sweeney star Ray Winstone was asked by the Radio Times about the pressure of playing Jack Regan, the copper who cared too much, made legendary by John Thaw in the classic 1970s TV series of the same name, he replied: "You can't emulate what John Thaw did - he was an icon. He was brilliant, and that was the worry for me. So I had to think: what we're actually making is a cops and robbers film, and then we called it The Sweeney afterwards." Try to adopt that same cops and robbers strategy while watching this movie and chances are you'll enjoy it.
The plot finds Detective Inspector Regan, his Detective Sergeant protégé George Carter (Drew) and other members of their Flying Squad unit (Atwell, Irish actor Leech - swapping his Downton Abbey duds for denim) investigating a robbery-homicide at an upmarket London jewellers. Something about the crime doesn't look 'right', but Regan can't figure out what. Fogging up his think-like-a-criminal-to-catch-one mind is an investigation by Internal Affairs into his methods, and some missing money. Soon the big question is whether Jack will have a badge long enough to crack his latest case.
Opening with an aerial sequence of London at night that looks like it cost more than the entire four series of The Sweeney put together, Nick Love's (The Football Factory, The Business) most grown-up film is slicker and more stylish than the original show, but fans of Thaw and co-star Dennis Waterman's bone-crunching MO are well catered for too - there's even a tribute sequence involving boiler suits, sledge hammer handles and sawn-offs early on.
Offering further proof of the 90%-of-directing-is-casting theory, Love has got it exactly right with Winstone and Drew in the lead roles. The former, looking like a Toby Jug in a Fred Perry tracksuit top, has the right amount of world-weariness and roguish charm as Regan, while Plan B star Drew brings more street roughness to the character of Carter than Waterman did back in the day.
Along with the chemistry between them, both men are particularly effective in the movie's action scenes, with Love staging two excellent set-pieces: a Heat-recalling shootout in Trafalgar Square (filmed, Love says, in just a two-hour time period); and a caravan park finale that manages to be very British but still better than a lot of bigger budget US showdowns.
There are some gripes here with supporting characters, an office that looks like an Apple store and a sequence with Winstone that is more fanboy-pleasing than plot-serving but nothing that turns the movie into the write-off that many had expected. And with a sequel in the works, Love will have another chance to earn his stripes.