DVD Action-Adventure
Written by Abbie Bernstein   
Tuesday, 30 December 2003


Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: PG-13
starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez, LL Cool J, Brian Van Holt, Jeremy Renner, Josh Charles, Olivier Martinez
release year: 2003
film rating: Three-and-a-Half Stars
sound/picture: Four Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

“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.

Chapter 3 uses the discrete sound just as carefully for a much more minor detail – check out the barking dog in the right rear – while the Rolling Stones’ “Shattered” is utilized shrewdly over a montage of Street going through his daily workout routine (in a nice bit of music information detail, Johnson mentions on the commentary track that the Stones charged a pretty penny for use of the track).

Chapter 6 again has great discrete bullet hits, albeit in a much more controlled environment, as punchy weapons fire lights up a shooting range from various aural vantage points as the visuals take us from character to character. Chapter 9 has especially effective use of a Spanish-language rap number during a foot chase through East L.A., as the screen lights up with almost glowing colors as the characters dodge around a parade.

Chapter 13 has the DVD’s one noticeable sonic flaw – a section of the dialogue track becomes briefly but jarringly uneven, especially on Jackson’s speeches, with levels jumping up and down. The problem does not occur elsewhere, however.

Chapter 17 has yet more excellent directional bullet hits, along with crash sounds and sirens in the rears so convincing you may look out the window to see if your street is having a sudden crisis. Chapter 19 has an explosion that seems to litter debris throughout the room and Chapter 20 has massive, solid car impact sounds. Chapter 24 has what may be the film’s biggest explosion yet, with a steel ladder being blown across the screen and clanging to rest in the right rear.

Music selections that can be found throughout the film include numbers by Thicke, El Gran Silencio, Genaro Codina, T.H. Guild, Band La Estrella, Linkin Park, Buppy, Jimmy Tha Joun, Sammy Davis Jr. (for a moment of really old-school gangster feel), Jane’s Addiction, 13, Apollo Four Forty, Long John Hunter, Paulina Rubio, John Gipson, Hot Action Cop and Barry DeVorzon’s old “S.W.A.T.” TV series theme.

The “S.W.A.T.” DVD comes with two audio commentary tracks, which can both be recommended for lively entertainment value, along with a wealth of information for anyone interested in how the movie was made. The first track features direction Johnson and cast members Jackson, Renner, LL Cool J, Michelle Rodriguez, Brian Van Holt and Josh Charles. Johnson is in fact fairly serious for the most part (though he confesses to tricking Farrell into doing a barf gag), but the actors are cut-ups, teasing each other constantly. Early on, Rodriguez wonders why Farrell’s character sticks around after being demoted. “Because there would be no movie!” LL Cool J replies. “We’d be doing ‘S.W.A.T.’ the short!” A separate commentary track with the four credited writers is equally energetic and funny, providing deep background on the origins of various story concepts and some true-life facts about real S.W.A.T. activity, as well. The requisite making-of featurette is done well and there’s also a featurette on the ‘70s “S.W.A.T.” TV show with on-camera interviews with surviving cast members. Deleted scenes are fine, unembarrassing but not missed from the final cut.

“S.W.A.T.” pretty much steers clear of any political controversy – good guys and bad guys are easily identifiable, the setpieces are inventive and both the storyline and the visuals sweep us along pretty effortlessly. The movie doesn’t provoke a lot of thought, but it’s thoroughly satisfying for what it is.

more details
sound format:
English 5.1 Dolby Surround; French 5.1 Dolby Surround
aspect ratio(s):
special features: Audio Commentary by Director Clark Johnson and Actors; Audio Commentary by Screenwriters and Technical Advisor; Deleted Scenes; Outtake Reel; Featurette on Sixth Street Bridge Scene; Featurette on Shoot-Out; Featurette on TV “S.W.A.T.”; Making-Of Featurette; “Sound and Fury” Featurette; Filmographies; English and French Subtitles; English Closed-Captioning
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba

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