A few years ago, while reviewing a Denzel Washington film where his
character falls on hard times, I expressed doubt whether he could ever
credibly play a bad guy. The charismatic actor is such a natural Boy
Scout, I speculated, that portraying true evil might simply be beyond
him. Was I ever wrong. In "Training Day," Washington pulls out all the
stops and delivers a hell of a performance. And when you see the film,
you'll understand why "hell" is such a fitting word. Written by David
Ayer and directed by Anthony Fuqua, "Training Day" grabs you by the nape
of the neck and hauls you through a contemporary nightmare. While the
ending suffers from an overload of coincidences and contrivances, the
movie still packs a wallop as it asks the question: Can honorable men
deal with the worst of humanity on a daily basis without being
Ethan Hawke (or as I've always thought of him, the wince-meister) plays
Jake Hoyt, a Los Angeles cop out to become detective. To that end, he
tries to join an elite squad led by Alonzo Harris (Washington), an
undercover officer legendary for his effectiveness. The hitch is that
Jake has only one day to prove his worthiness to Alonzo.
The 13-year veteran narc tears into the kid immediately, challenging his
straight-arrow training. "This is street justice," he declares. "It
takes a wolf to catch a wolf... It's ugly, but it's like that." Within
minutes, Alonzo bullies Jake into smoking a joint laced with a variety
of chemicals. Stoned out of his mind, Jake tries to keep his bearings as
Alonzo tours the grimmest parts of the city, introducing him to one
incredibly dangerous character after another.
Even within his drug haze, the boy soon realizes that Alonzo is not
merely an officer that plays fast and loose with the rules - he's a
full-fledged rogue cop willing to do anything to get what he wants.
Some of the most harrowing moments take place in a neighborhood
completely under the control of thugs. Alonzo lives there, convinced he
is respected by his brutal neighbors due to his ability to work the
system. In fact, they loathe the man and put up with him solely because
of his badge and gun.
Taking place over the course of a single day, "Training Day" builds
momentum and never backs off. The film creates and maintains a sense of
genuine danger. As the proceedings grow ever more dark, you begin to
wonder if the key players can possibly survive the day. Until the last
15 minutes, that is, when the story wraps up too quickly and in far too
pat a fashion.
Regardless, "Training Day" is one of the stronger action/character
studies to be released by a major studio in quite a while. Those able to
withstand the intensity and violence will be rewarded with solid acting
by Ethan Hawke and a towering performance from Denzel Washington, an
artist who still has the capability to surprise.
Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott