Swell to watch

- Ben Bernales -
S.W.A.T. is a tautly-helmed police action film well worth watching.

As expected, it glorifies the elite group of law enforcers who emerged in the ’60s within the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) – the Special Weapons and Tactics Team (S.W.A.T.) as the nemesis of criminal elements figuring in hostage situations. The film highlights S.W.A.T.’s assets and downplays its inadequacies, if any.

So successful has SWAT been (it supposedly has yet to lose any hostage to this day) that it has spawned "clones" in other cities, even beyond the US (the Philippines included).

A widely-acclaimed TV series in the ’70s starring Steve Forrest inspired this film by Clark Johnson who belongs to the impressive young crop of directors.

This fast-paced movie has a capable ensemble of actors led by veteran Samuel L. Jackson and young hotshots like the Irish actor Colin Farrell and French actor Olivier Martinez who stood out in The Phone Booth and Unfaithful, respectively.

The film’s female lead is Michelle Rodriguez who was recently quoted in TIME as saying she looks forward to portraying "respected women who are powerful" like Lucrezia Borgia.

The film’s plot is spry, straightforward and unilinear. It has no distracting flashbacks or future projections and has a denouément devoid of flashy frills that can unduly delay resolving the narrative’s conflict. (Credit for the high entertainment value of the compact storyline goes to Ron Mita and Jim McClain.)

At the outset, two SWAT men commit a mistake during a mission and are sternly reprimanded, demoted and dismissed from the team. One of the men disputes the punishment and quits. The other accepts it, hoping to return after showing good behavior. The chance comes when he is recruited by an officer tasked to form a SWAT team.

The new unit when set up also includes a woman (though in reality LAPD has yet to open its SWAT slots to women).

After a gruelling boot camp to learn the nitty-gritty of being a SWAT member, the team passes with flying colors its litmus test of saving a mock planeload of hostages without suffering any casualty.

So impressed are the higher-ups that they assign the neophyte team its first job – the safe transfer from LAPD custody to the national penitentiary of a notorious international drug lord.

This task turns out to be a baptism of fire for the group as it hurdles obstacles including an ambush by a ragtag band of mercenaries armed to the teeth with state-of-the-art weapons.

As a character-driven genre, S.W.A.T. shows how the lead cast members essay their individual roles to make them leap from the script to life and become believable.

As Hondo the team leader, Jackson plays it cool even during exasperating scenes with his chief who hates his guts and gloats over his setbacks.

As Street, Farrell shows a sincere role-model competence as he dissuades a teammate from quitting as well as when he evens up score with the latter as a criminal offender in a later encounter.

Martinez characterizes his part as Alex Montel, a drug kingpin, with a hateful malevolence, mainly through his $100 million bribe for anyone to free him from detention.

As intended, the film shows the development of the characters insofar as their roles drive them toward their goal.

Hondo’s objective is to get a good team going despite opposition from his prejudiced Caucasian superior, ironically his buddy at start of their career together.

Street’s aim to succeed in the police service is achieved with his patient work during his punishment which is rewarded by the chance to become a SWATman once more.

Chris (Rodriguez’s character) wants to do her job well to prove that despite her gender, she deserves to be a SWAT member like any man and also to raise her toddler daughter as a single parent without much hassle. And she does just that.

Among the various episodes in the film, I admire the thriller of a sequence featuring the breath-taking blow-by-blow attempt to abscond the villain into a hijacked Lear Jet that lands on the middle of a bridge during an unusual getaway.

The film’s production design by Mayne Berke is remarkable. His color palette consists mainly of dark and earth tones which goes well with the gritty storyline of crime-fighting. There’s a welcome spell from the dark colors when bright hues appear during chase scenes. These reflect the vibrant colors of red, yellow and orange of the multi-racial denizens and their gaudy urban environs.

Unobtrusive music (Elliot Goldenthal), clear, focused photography (Gabriel Beristain) and tight, smooth editing (Michael Trunick) are other factors that help make the movie worthwhile viewing.

For all the sweat called for in bringing forth a suspenseful film sans irrelevant, irreverent sex and violent scenes, unhesitatingly I hand S.W.A.T. an unequivocal rating of swell.












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