The Sweeney

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Sweeney Movie Poster Image
Brutal but effective crime drama based on '70s UK TV series.
  • R
  • 2013
  • 112 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The movie's main theme is the conflict between unorthodox methods that get the job done and orthodox methods that may or may not actually hinder the job. It's an interesting idea, but the movie definitely has a preference for the unorthodox methods. This also allows characters to behave badly with few consequences.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Aside from the police officers' bravery and skill, they aren't positive role models. They behave badly and sometimes perform illegal operations in the course of catching criminals. They drink, smoke, swear, engage in adultery, indulge in brutal violence, and sometimes steal.


The main characters beat up criminals with baseball bats and axe handles, as well as using guns. Characters are shot and killed and stabbed. Some blood is shown. During the many fight scenes, characters brutally punch, pummel, and strangle each another. Bad guys are violently questioned in custody. Car chases and crashes.


The main male character has an affair with a married woman, and they have sex (no nudity shown) in several scenes. They also kiss, and the woman grabs the man's crotch while driving. The woman explains that her marriage is failing and that she'll eventually leave her husband, but she's still officially married.


"F--k" is used almost constantly in this movie, in every context, and other language is very strong as well, including "s--t," "bollocks," "prick," "t-ts," "c--t," "ass," "bastard," and "hell." A character uses the middle finger gesture.


Apple computers are shown in the squad's office.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A child is shown scrounging for a cigarette from the main character's jacket pockets. The main character tells him he's "too young to smoke" (viewers never actually see the child smoking). Characters celebrate with drinks in one scene, and the main character wakes up, presumably hung over, on the couch. The main character and other minor characters are frequently seen smoking cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Sweeney is an English crime drama about an elite police squad that's based on a 1970s UK TV series (so it doesn't have much of a built-in U.S. audience). There's tons of strong language, with "f--k" used almost constantly, as well as brutal violence (fighting, shooting/guns, blood, car chases, etc.). The main character is having an affair; consequently, there are several sex scenes and sexual innuendoes, though no actual nudity is shown. Characters drink, the main character regularly smokes cigarettes, and it's suggested that a child is about to smoke a cigarette (not shown). It's also worth noting that the characters speak with very strong, hard-edged English accents, which may be difficult for some Americans to follow.

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What's the story?

As the head of the Flying Squad of London's Metropolitan Police, detective Jack Regan (Ray Winstone) and his team regularly use unorthodox methods (including baseball bats) to get results and catch criminals. Unfortunately, they're now under investigation by DCI Ivan Lewis (Steven Mackintosh), a situation that's made worse by the fact that Jack is having an affair with a member of his squad, Ivan's wife, Nancy (Hayley Atwell). And the investigation happens to occur in the middle of a sticky case. After a jewelry store robbery that turned to murder, Jack catches the likely suspects but finds that they have rock-solid alibis -- so he must let them go. Jack's antics land him in jail, and it's up to his squad to find new evidence and set things right.

Is it any good?

Director Nick Love gives The Sweeney a gritty, realistic look, which contrasts with the screenplay's more rudimentary conflicts, twists and turns, and chase scenes. It's not clear just how many Americans will be familiar with the 1970s UK TV series that inspired THE SWEENEY, whose title comes from Cockney rhyming slang ("Sweeney Todd" = "Flying Squad"). But, happily, it can still be enjoyed by fans of basic, action-oriented crime dramas. The film feels like it should be smarter than it really is.

But Oscar-nominated co-screenwriter John Hodge (Trainspotting) gives colorful lead character Jack Regan a range of moods, from romantic abandon to humor to desperation and determination; it's really more of a character piece than a police drama. It's too bad the other characters don't quite spring to life in the same way. But if you sit back and enjoy the way that Winstone's energetic performance generously draws out the other characters, the movie becomes a great deal of fun in spite of itself.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about The Sweeney's violence. Does it justify the use of brutal police force to capture criminals? Is it entirely acceptable, or are there questions? Can the ends ever justify the means?

  • Is it OK to use unorthodox methods to achieve something? Or is it better to follow the rules, even if those rules make it more difficult?

  • What makes the main character smoke cigarettes? How does the movie portray smoking overall? Drinking?

  • Do you think viewers need to be familiar with the show that inspired the movie to enjoy it?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

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