Two excellent performances, one from Denzel Washington and the other from EthanHawke, heighten Antoine Fuqua’s new police thriller Training Day. They raise thefilm above the clichd mechanics the production succumbs to in its crucial thirdact to make for an entertaining commercial effort.
Jake Hoyt (Hawke) is an ambitious but nave upstart of a California policeofficer. He’s ready to throw himself into a new assignment: joining a task forcecombating the reign of drug dealers on the streets of Los Angeles. That force isled by 13-year veteran Detective Alonzo Harris (Washington), who gives Hoyt justone day on the job to prove if he is capable of being part of Harris’ team.
Jake’s “training day” is hardly a routine one. For starters, Alonzo has theyoung cop partaking in drugs and alcohol as part of his “getting to know thestreets” (if only every job had training like this). Harris is apprehensive ofthe young rookie at first, but he soon begins to realize that Hoyt just mighthave what it takes to do the job. It is he that Alonzo begins to show Jake moreof the daily routine. Routine tasks like using phony search warrants to rip themoff suspected drug dealers, paying off city officials and every once in a while,the occasional murder or two when it is in the best interest of Alonzo or thehierarchy. Not surprisingly, Harris and Hoyt’s wildly different points of viewon law enforcement cause for a lot of tension as the day wears on.
Had that been the entire story, this would have been one of the better policethrillers to come out of Hollywood in quite sometime. Director Antoine Fuqua,whose first two films (The Replacement Killers and Bait) were bad to say theleast, shows a far more mature and confident directorial style here. He’sdropped the flashy visual overkill and instead has gone for a more subduedapproach to the material, allowing the story and the characters to come to theforeground. David Ayer (The Fast and the Furious)’s screenplay offers someinteresting food for thought when it comes to the ethical issues that areassociated with being a law officer in what is essential a war zone.
When Ayer’s screenplay steers away from the moral aspect and allows a blandsubplot involving the Russian Mafia to take over the concluding twenty minutes,the film loses a lot of the credibility it had worked very hard to build up.Here, Training Day turns into yet another pedestrian action thriller, filledwith gunplay, a ridiculous fistfight and a drawn out, unsatisfying conclusion.I’m not sure if Ayer and Fuqua didn’t know how to end the film or if they (andthe studio suits at Warner Brothers) felt that the movie didn’t have enoughclichd elements to make it financially viable. Either way, the ending is aletdown.
One thing you won’t feel cheated by are Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke’swinning performances. Washington plays against his usual heroic screen personato create a performance much like his character: unpredictable, dangerous andfascinating to watch. Whereas another actor might take the easy route by hammingit up and playing the antagonist with one note, Washington goes the opposite wayand delves deeper into Alonzo’s psyche. By doing this, we get a betterunderstanding to what he does and why. We may not agree on said actions, butthanks to the character accessibility created by Denzel, we certainly do beginto understand where he is coming from. This performance ranks alongside Glory,Malcolm X and The Hurricane as one of Denzel Washington’s finest performances.
Ethan Hawke has starred in some quality productions in the past, but I for onecould never get past the pretentious slacker persona he wears like a shirt. Yet,with this film and with the upcoming Tape, he shows that he may be capable ofmaturing onscreen. His performance, much like Washington’s, is very accessiblewhen it comes to empathizing with where Hoyt is coming from. His characterdoesn’t carry a lot of emotional baggage nor does he want to rebel against theworld. He wants to protect, serve and make a difference in the community. Hawkecaptures that idealism very nicely and also manages not to be overshadowed byhis co-star, which is a feat unto itself.
The supporting cast, including musical artists Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and MacyGray, is also quite good. Scott Glenn has a small but solid role as a friend ofAlonzo’s who also is a big-time drug dealer. Tom Berenger appears as one of acity official, but his role and lines of dialogue are far too brief to make anysort of impact.
Being that Fuqua got his start in the music video industry, it comes as nosurprise that the film looks and sounds terrific. The cinematography by MauroFiore basks Los Angeles in a rich display of deep colors, while Mark Mancia’sscore is one that is low-key and hypnotic. The use of rap music is surprisinglysparse, but what is there works quite well.
Based on Fuqua’s previous movie work, I figured that Training Day would be aloud, hyper kinetic music video with bullets, a high body and clich count andzero substance. I was, by and large, taken by pleasant surprise. If you canlower your expectations for the contrived ending, you will find an entertainingdrama buoyed greatly by its two lead stars. Training Day may not be perfect, butit certainly is worthy of your time and money.