Movie shoot-outs are often dazzling feats of marksmanship. Few filmmakers have the guts to show their version of Gunfight at the OK Corral the way such gunfights actually go down - dozens of rounds, most missing the mark.
That's one thing the two-fisted British crime drama The Sweeney gets right. In a running gun battle, the pistol-packing coppers are at a distinct disadvantage to "villains" toting semiautomatic weapons. And neither has much luck at hitting ducking, moving noncivilian targets who are shooting back.
The Sweeney, based on an influential British TV show of the 1970s, is a down-and-dirty genre picture that manages a couple of decent plot twists, a couple of passable car chases, and two epic shoot-outs. The Brits may be decades behind the French in the car-chase game, but director Nick Love has studied his Michael Mann (Heat) and learned how hard-boiled men and women of violence look, think, fight, and shoot.
"The Sweeney" are cops, men and women who live for the adrenaline rush of the chase and the tussle, the satisfaction of the arrest. "We're the Sweeney. You're nicked." They're working class and coarse - a flying squad of violent-crime detectives who go by their unit's Cockney nickname, slang for Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
The charismatic Ray Winstone is their leader, Jack Regan, an "any means necessary" brute with more than a hint of corruption about him. Not that he cares.
He's carrying on a sordid affair with a fellow cop (Hayley Atwell) who is also the wife of an Internal Affairs officer who'd like nothing more than to shut down the flying squad. Jack runs roughshod over his boss (Damian Lewis) and makes a point, after a big bust, of closing down the pub with his crew.
Then a jewelry store robbery ends with an execution, and Jack & Co. (Ben Drew is his protégé) become obsessed with catching the villains who did it, willing to risk each other, scores of innocent civilians, and prison terms to get their guy.
The Sweeney *** (out of four stars)
Directed by Nick Love. With Ray Winstone, Ben Drew, and Hayley Atwell. Distributed by eOne.
Running time: 1 hour, 52 mins.
Parent's guide: R (violence, profanity, sexual content)
Playing at: AMC Neshaminy 24