Home > Reviews > S.W.A.T. – Elliot Goldenthal

S.W.A.T. – Elliot Goldenthal

swatOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

When Elliot Goldenthal won the Best Original Score Academy Award last May, and joined the hallowed ranks of the Oscar winning composers, much interest was given to the film he would choose to score next. Goldenthal is a notoriously selective composer, rarely scoring more than two films per year, and who more often than not lends his talents to meaty dramas and weighty subjects. When S.W.A.T., an action packed cop thriller, was announced as being his next project, eyebrows were raised. But, after several quite “deep and meaningful” entries over the last couple of years, S.W.A.T. was exactly what the New Yorker needed: a chance to have fun.

Based on a 1970s TV show that starred Steve Forrest and Rod Perry, director Clark Johnson has updated the premise of a drama following members of the Los Angeles Special Weapons And Tactics team for the 1990s. The epitome of urban coolness, Samuel L. Jackson stars as Hondo Harrelson, a former crack squad leader who has been recalled by the LAPD to set up a new S.W.A.T. unit. Their task: to guard the recently-arrested international drug lord and weapons smuggler Alex Montel (Olivier Martinez), who has promised to pay $100 million to anyone willing to take on the LAPD and free him from their grasp. So Harrelson, along with his new recruits Street (Colin Farrell), Sanchez (Michelle Rodriguez), Kay (LL Cool J), Boxer (Brian Van Holt) and McCabe (Josh Charles), get down to business – and of course, find that the citizens of Los Angeles are never shy to take up the chance of making a quick million bucks, even if it means breaking the law.

Elliot Goldenthal has, of course, tackled the crime thriller genre before, notably for films such as Demolition Man, A Time to Kill, and especially his 1995 score for Michael Mann’s Heat. Never before, though, has Goldenthal gone for such a rip-snorting attitude in his music, combining the orchestral, electronic and rock genres in a superb amalgam of styles and rhythms. This is a Media Ventures score gone awry, the twisted cousin of the modern Hollywood action score, where the electric guitars scream at you, the synthesizers set off at such a pace as to leave you dizzy, and the orchestra battles with increasingly complex and challenging sections of thunderous dissonance. This is truly remarkable stuff.

The opening ‘Bullet Frenzy’ is quite astonishing: a cacophony of styles and influences that is unmistakably Goldenthal, but with a vibrant modern edge provided with a bank of massive electric guitars and a percussion section that would not sound out of place at a Metallica concert. The word “frenzy” is quite appropriate for this awesome 10-minute opening, as instruments collide at incredible speed and with ferocious intensity, recalling parts of scores such as Final Fantasy, In Dreams and the aforementioned Heat, but with the sense of urgency turned up several notches. In fact, much of this score is based around action, with further cues such as ‘AK-47 Scherzo’, ‘Run for Your Life’ and the truly enormous ‘Bullet Frenzy II’ continuing the trend of deeply complex and difficult string writing and dissonant brasses set against a hip urban beat. The unstoppable ‘Crash Landing’ features some amazing cascade effects, and the theme-driven ‘S.W.A.T. Sticker’ provides a killer updating of Barry De Vorzon’s original TV theme.

On the other side of the coin, Goldenthal also engages in a great deal of laid-back funk and 1970s attitude, undoubtedly to illustrate the gritty metropolitan setting of the film, and to reflect the musical conventions of both time period of the original series, and the ethnic origin of its protagonists. ‘Don’t Shoot Me Baby’ is a wonderful piece that sounds like a outrageous cross between Goldenthal and Isaac Hayes, ‘My Big Black Assault Weapon’ is sheer swagger and cool, with marvelous echoing trombones that dart across the orchestra, while ‘Three Chords in Two Minutes’ does exactly as it says on the tin by presenting a low-key, laid back groove with minimal development but a hard-edged thump to bolster the track along.

Listeners will be aware of subtle echoes of Don Davis’s Matrix scores here and there, in some of the brass writing especially, as well as several earlier Goldenthal scores. However, almost more than any other composer working in Hollywood today, Goldenthal has unique and wholly distinctive style of writing, which make stylistic similarities between scores inevitable. In addition to this, Davis and Goldenthal have been sharing the same orchestrators of late, again making similarities unavoidable – the “Robert Elhai factor”. Following the intellectual Mexican tones of Frida, S.W.A.T. is certainly a swing into left-field for Goldenthal, but more than makes up for what it lacks in “depth” with sheer bucket loads of fun and testosterone-fuelled excitement. That Goldenthal can write such stunningly realized music for what is little more than a standard cop thriller is a great testament to his talent, and has resulted in a musical bright spot in an otherwise subdued summer.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Bullet Frenzy (10:17)
  • Don’t Shoot Me Baby (3:25)
  • My Big Black Assault Weapon (1:38)
  • AK-47 Scherzo (3:42)
  • Three Chords in Two Minutes (1:53)
  • Run for your Life (3:05)
  • The Fascist Shuffle (1:29)
  • S.W.A.T. 911 (written by Barry De Vorzon and Danny Saber, performed by Danny Saber) (3:10)
  • Crash Landing (4:48)
  • That Cop Stole My Car (2:04)
  • S.W.A.T. Sticker (0:53)
  • Bullet Frenzy II (1:38)
  • Time is Running Out (written and performed by Apollo Four Forty) (4:59)
  • Samuel Jackson (written and performed by Hot Action Cop) (4:03)

Running Time: 47 minutes 03 seconds

Varése Sarabande VSD-6501 (2003)

Music composed by Elliot Goldenthal. Conducted by Steven Mercurio. Orchestrations by Robert Elhai, Elliot Goldenthal, Winfried Kraus and Deniz Hughes. Featured musical soloists Page Hamilton, Mark Stewart, Shawn Pelton, Charley Drayton, Jamey Hadad and Will Lee. Recorded and mixed by Joel Iwataki and Steve McLaughlin. Edited by Curtis Roush, Daryl Kell and Will Kaplan. Mastered by Vlado Meller. Album produced by Elliot Goldenthal and Teese Gohl.

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