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Training Day (2001): Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing

Training Day (Antione Fuqua, 2001)

[originally posted 5Nov2001]

Hawke and Washington decorate the movie poster.

Kings of the streets.
photo credit: Wikipedia

Fuqua, who has directed scores of music videos and made his big-screen debut with the impressive Chow Yun-Fat vehicle The Replacement Killers (1998), offers up his most recent flick, Training Day. The movie takes us through the first day on the undercover narcotics squad of LAPD officer Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke), who’s riding along with the head of the unit, Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington). It doesn’t take too long before Hoyt realizes that the life of an undercover officer ain’t what gets taught at the police academy.

 

Denzel Washington interrogates Snoop Dogg in a still from the film.

“Ain’t nothin’ but a John Q thing, baby.”
photo credit: galleryhip.com

As should be obvious, comparisons to Dennis Hopper’s brilliant 1988 film Colors are inevitable, and they’re warranted. Screenwriter David Ayer (U-571, The Fast and the Furious) had to realize while writing this that the comparisons were going to happen, and there are few films, especially cop films, that won’t suffer in comparison. Ayer uses the one-day timeframe as one of the differences between the two films; he also adds a couple of subplots, some that work, some that don’t. But like Colors, the true basis of the film is an exploration of the personalities of the two main characters, how they conflict, and how the older cop (Washington, in this case, playing the same role Robert Duvall did in the earlier movie) has to combine the wisdom of the law officer with the street sensibility of the thug in order to survive from day to day, much less actually get anything done.

While Hawke and Washington don’t have the same chemistry as Duvall and Penn, Training Day doesn’t hit you over the head with its plot quite as hard as Colors did. It also avoids the morality-tale mentality until the last twenty minutes or so of the film (one wonders, idly, if the film had a different ending originally and got a re-shoot after test-marketing). Alonzo Harris is a bad guy, pure and simple (and it’s refreshing to see Denzel Washington play someone who’s not squeaky-clean), but that doesn’t make him any less competent at his job, or any less believable when dispensing various bits of homily on how to survive as an undercover narcotics officer. It also makes the first portion of the film’s climax (surprisingly long and surprisingly interest-holding) that much more unexpected when it finally does occur.

Hawke stars in disbelief at Washington's receding back in a still from the film.

“You kiddin’ me? Six shots and how the hell did you miss every damn time?”
photo credit: therollingpicture.blogspot.com

And herein, actually, is the one place the film really screws up. Training Day‘s climax opens with one hell of a large coincidence which could have been derailed at any one of a number of places along the way, and some of the characters in the film have to slip out of character at times in order for the coincidence to take shape (note that this is unnoticeable until the event in question happens, but it leaves a slightly sour aftertaste). A little rewriting earlier in the film might have solved this problem.

One last note of comparison between the two is in the uniformly high quality of the supporting casts in both films. In Training Day, Fuqua gives us a number of folks who are starting to pop up in a lot of supporting roles these days, from the surprisingly talented Snoop Dogg to the big-screen debut of Macy Gray (with better hair than usual, and thus unrecognizable). Special attention should be paid to Eva Mendes as Denzel’s main squeeze and Cliff Curtis (last seen by a wide audience torturing Mark Wahlberg in Three Kings) as one of his top informants. Curtis, especially, is on his way up in the world, and fast.

Overall, there are enough errors in Training Day to still make Colors the better film, but this was one fine shot at the title. After viewing, let it sink in for a while, as its full measure takes a while and some reflection to settle in. *** 1/2

 


Trailer.

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

3 responses »

  1. Blaster of Reality

    This film is great–I’ll look up “Colors” soon…

    Reply
  2. Ethan Hawke, bright eyed and innocent, reports to his training officer for his first day on the job in narcotics in the LAPD. He never could have fathomed just how much he would learn on that very first Training Day.

    His training officer is Denzel Washington, a thirteen year veteran on the police who’s put in a few years in plainclothes in Narcotics. He certainly has the experience, but just what kind of experience and what he imparts to Hawke is the subject of Training Day.

    A film like Training Day will rise and fall with the performances of these two characters since one or the other and mostly both is on screen from the beginning. Fortunately both Washington and Hawke complement each other’s performances like jigsaw puzzle fit.

    It is no accident that Denzel Washington won his second Oscar, his first as Best Actor. This performance is working on so many levels it’s astonishing. Washington is at all times, charming, capable, corrupt, violent, street smart, and arrogant. What I liked most about it is how the various facets of this character are revealed bit by bit to the audience and to Hawke though not at the same time.

    As for Ethan Hawke it takes him to realize just exactly what he’s dealing with in a training officer. Hawke was nominated himself as Best Supporting Actor, but lost to Jim Broadbent for Iris. Still it remains his career role so far.

    Corruption in the Los Angeles Police Department isn’t exactly a new story. In fact one of the supporting players, Scott Glenn who plays a drug peddler and well, did another film about LAPD corruption in Extreme Justice. LA Confidential also dealt with this issue recently, another fine film.

    Denzel Washington is a great example in this film of the arrogance of power. He’s a guy who dispenses more street justice than going through the traditional system. So with what happens to him here, he gets one of the best comeuppances ever seen on the big screen.

    And I won’t say what it is, but you’ve got to see Training Day to find out.

    Reply

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