The tragedy of 9/11 spawned many propganda films that depicted Americans as flag-waving patriots, battling the evils in the world to restore law, order and freedom. S.W.A.T. is a product of that, a film to boost the morale and perceptions of the US police force - in this case the LAPD. It may be based on a '70s TV series of the same name, but its underlying message is clear.
Scripted by David Ayer (Training Day) and David McKenna, the plot revolves around Los Angeles' elite S.W.A.T. team (Special Weapons and Tactics), and the trials and tribulations that the team members experience. Battles with various villains, personal problems and conflicts of interest all merge together under the story's main focal point: the arrival of an international terrorist (Olivier Martinez, most recently seen in the excellent Unfaithful) and the team are charged with protecting and subsequently escorting him to federal prison.
Led by Sgt. Dan 'Hondo' Harrelson (Samuel L. Jackson), the team comprises of young hotshot Jim Street (played by a young hotshot - Colin Farrell), feisty female Chris Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez), family man David 'Deke' Kay (LL Cool J), T.J. McCabe (Josh Charles) and Michael Boxer (Brian Van Holt). After training to bond the new recruits, the trouble of escorting a terrorist who has promised $100 million to whoever breaks him out soon begins to take its toll on the team. As well as that minor inconvenience, battling with a stuck-up LAPD Captain (Larry Poindexter) and also Street having to cope with a grudge from an ex-partner who got fired from the force six months earlier.
When I first heard about S.W.A.T. I was eager to sit down and switch off: the trailer depicted it as an enjoyable and trashy action film, something that can hold your attention for its duration and then release its grip. Thankfully, I was pleased, and in many ways the film actually turned out better than my predictions. Clark Johnson's direction is excellent for a first venture into cinema (he carved his name out of directing TV shows, most notably The Shield) and the action does come thick and fast. Los Angeles is the backdrop to a host of gunfights, all choreographed to appeal to action junkies, and there is also the odd fistfight.
Considering films of this genre usually have one-dimensional characters, portrayed by actors who display about as much flair as a goldfish, this again is a pleasant surprise. Sure, the characters stick to the clichéd formula (token hard-as-nails girl cop, family man, ballsy young recruit, veteran leader with chips on his shoulder) but the actors are all strong and take the time to develop their alter-egos between the various bust-ups. I have always been a fan of Colin Farrell's acting capabilities - 2003 is definitely The Year of the Farrell: this is his sixth film released since January - and again he proves he can drop his Irish accent and persona for someone else's. The supporting cast, led by another favourite of mine Samuel L. Jackson, all deserve kudos as well.
The third act may change the rhythm and atmosphere of the film slightly for the worse, but there is no denying that overall this is very good entertainment for those wanting a self-confessed trashy, action flick. I'm certainly awaiting the DVD release...