|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 30 December 2003|
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“S.W.A.T.” is a by-the-book yet still enjoyable cop actioner that is so breezily cinematic and uncheesy that it comes as a bit of a surprise to recall that it is in fact based on a ‘70s TV series (with a featurette in the special features section to remind us, no less). About the only holdover camp factors still visible from that era are the names of one or two characters (even the considerable credible toughness of Samuel L. Jackson isn’t entirely enough to justify calling him “Hondo”). Otherwise, this is all straight-ahead stuff with the kind of physicality and strong structure that lets us take it relatively seriously on its own terms.
Special Weapons And Tactics partners Jim Street (Colin Farrell) and Brian Gamble (Jeremy Renner) are part of a team who successfully shut down a bank robbery in progress. However, Gamble wings a hostage and in the ensuing political scrimmage, he quits. Street opts to accept a demotion and hang in with the department, a decision that causes Gamble to sever their friendship. Several months later, legendary S.W.A.T. commander “Hondo” Harrelson (Jackson) is given the task of putting together his own handpicked unit. Street makes the cut and winds up with his comrades on assignment to preside over the orderly transfer of international criminal Alex Martel (Olivier Martinez) who, when TV cameras are aimed at him, takes the opportunity to offer $100 million to anybody who will free him from custody. Naturally, this makes the job of escorting him anywhere a whole lot tougher …
Jackson of course projects the inarguable sense that he cound run an army, let alone a S.W.A.T. unit, better than anybody on the planet, so there’s no question about what this guy is doing in his job, while Farrell conveys a lot of angst and determination with little dialogue. Renner plays simmering righteous vindictiveness with all the right notes and Martinez, as the cool, amused eye of the hurricane, seems sophisticated and mean enough to live up to his character’s ruthless reputation.
The script by David Ayer and David McKenna, from a story by Ron Mita & Jim McClain, shrewdly lets us get to know the characters in intense situations before letting all hell break loose. There’s also muscular, impressive direction from Clark Johnson, who as an actor is a veteran of TV’s “Homicide: Life on the Streets” and as a director learned his chops on a lot of (mostly police-oriented) episodics – he’s got a way with both the camera and the cast that serves the material very well.
Johnson combines film and video to give the proceedings a jagged, you-are-there feel, interspersing the characters’ experiences with news coverage (an effect from the theatrical edition in the home environment) and a punchy yet coherent editing style. There are a lot of “I love L.A.” helicopter shots that serve to both celebrate the city and set the scene.
Soundwise, “S.W.A.T.” for most of its length is reference quality. Chapter 1 has an extremely impressive shoot-out at a bank (discussed in detail in the “Anatomy of a Shootout” featurette, as well as both commentary tracks) with some of the most clearly discrete sound effects heard to date. Individual bullet hits ping and whine in right rear, left rear, right main, left main and center, with no speaker-to-speaker bleed, and several whirring helicopters move with equal distinctiveness around the sound environment, allowing us to track the movement of each aircraft. This is true surround sound, putting us in the middle of a hyper-realistic sonic environment.