by Patrick Bromley
This installment of Heavy Action was suggested by our very own Adam Riske. Thanks, Adam!
I sat down with Erika in a quarter-full theater to see S.W.A.T. on its opening summer day in 2003. I had never watched the TV series on which the film was based. I had no real affinity for any of the cast members; studios were still trying to make Colin Farrell a thing (he has since become a thing, and justifiably so), Michelle Rodriguez seemed to be playing another Michelle Rodriguez part, and Samuel L. Jackson was in every fifth movie I saw back then. The trailers felt generic. Director Clark Johnson was all but an unknown quantity to me, having directed mostly TV that I hadn't seen (he wasn't yet Gus from The Wire). We went to see the first show that opening Friday because, like so many movies we saw back in those days, it was a new release.
It turned out to be exactly what I needed.
Colin Farrell is Jim Street, a member of S.W.A.T. who gets busted down with his partner (Jeremy Renner) after they disobey orders and put an end to a hostage situation but shoot a civilian in the process. Street is assigned to the weapons cage; his partner is fired outright. Six months later, Street begins to catch the eye of Hondo (Jackson), the sergeant who has returned to S.W.A.T. to head up a new team. Hondo puts his career on the line to get Street on the team with the likes of Deacon (L.L. Cool J), Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez), Boxer (Brian Van Holt), and TJ (Josh Charles). When international fugitive Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez) comes to Los Angeles, he's brought to jail and offers $100 million to whoever can break him out. Plenty of criminals take him up on his offer -- including someone from Street's past.
The choice to structure the movie the way the filmmakers have can make it feel like an episode of a TV show. It has those kinds of stakes, that kind of interest in its big bad, who amounts to little more than a villain of the week. The criticism here is that in its translation to the big screen, S.W.A.T. fails to be appropriately "cinematic." As someone who sees a lot of action movies, I don't mind it. It's how S.W.A.T. distinguishes itself: by being about the job more than the personalities of its heroes or villains. It never invests itself too much in any one thing. Even the bad guy death is sort of casually tossed off in a way that feels less dramatic and more realistic -- it's just a thing that happens almost by accident and then it's over. That moment has made S.W.A.T. stick with me all these years when other action movies have faded away. I respond to how low-key the whole film is, especially in a genre known for so often being overblown.
The Fugitive or Miami Vice, but it's not Wild Wild West either. It's a perfectly good Saturday afternoon action movie.
Got a movie you'd like to see covered in a future installment of Heavy Action? Let us know in the comments below!