Training Day Review

(3.5 STARS)

Training Day is a rare beast—a cop movie that’s about more than a clichéd crime and investigation. This film, a very personal one for director Antoine Fuqua, raises questions about the meaning of justice, the point of it, and the lengths one will go to in order to ensure it. And it’s elevated even further by an epic performance from Denzel Washington. It’s a volcanic portrayal of the ultimate bad cop for which the actor was deservedly awarded an Oscar. The film succeeds on its own accord, but Washington makes it something truly special.

It’s Jake Hoyt’s (Ethan Hawke) first day in his new role as narcotics investigator. He’s ambitious and hopes this new role will help him become detective one day. His superior is Alonzo Harris (Washington), a respected undercover who knows the streets and knows who will be able to cut it out there with him. He takes Hoyt along with him for a day of training. It turns into a day that would rival some of the worst for Jack Bauer.

Harris doesn’t exactly play things by-the-book, the way Jake likes them. He doesn’t have much interest in arresting people; rather he uses them to help himself out down the line. Sometimes, that means letting a pair of rapists go after taking their money. Other times, it means befriending a guy who deals drugs to kids in order to make a big payday. Jake doesn’t like it, but plays along after Harris fools him into smoking some PCP. But things begin to go too far, and eventually, Jake finds himself on Harris’ bad side. Then the shit really hits the fan.

The depths Alonzo goes to for justice are frightening and advance the plot along surprisingly quickly considering there really isn’t an easy-to-see plot trajectory. Like our two main characters, the film kind of just goes along wherever the day takes it. But this isn’t a detriment. In fact, when Training Day becomes more conventional, it becomes less compelling. The scenes during which Alonzo simply shows Jake the ropes are very strong, offering us a twisted view of the justice system. Alonzo believes you must become like these criminals in order to think like they do and defeat them. He encourages Jake to do some drugs in order to “gain favor” with drug users and dealers. His philosophy is it doesn’t matter what you know, what matters is what you can prove. He follows these words religiously.

As I said, Washington was awarded an Oscar for his work here, and I can’t really object to the Academy’s decision. His competition was really stiff that year (Russell Crowe for A Beautiful Mind and Tom Wilkinson for In the Bedroom were both excellent), but Washington’s flashier role allowed him to shine through. It helps to have some dynamite dialogue (“King Kong ain’t got shit on me”), but honestly, I can’t see anyone else playing this role as well as Washington. Ethan Hawke was awarded a nomination for his work, which I suppose he earned as well. The role isn’t flashy at all, but there is always the danger of having a really cookie cutter good cop role in films like this. Jake doesn’t quite fit the traditional mold, so credit Hawke for that.

Director Antoine Fuqua’s career since Training Day has been hit-and-miss (with more of the latter than the former), but he will always have Training Day on his resume, and for that, he should be proud. This is an exceptional thriller and character study that does more than most films of the crime genre. So see it. Even if this kind of film isn’t really your thing, Washington’s performance is something anyone should be able to appreciate and admire.

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