Retro Review: Training Day

What is it like to be a narcotics officer in the LA police department? Hopefully nothing like this.

“Training Day” opens with rookie cop Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) prepping for his first day as a narcotics police officer. Hoyt is told by his new partner to meet him at a coffee shop for his orientation. Hoyt arrives at the coffee shop to meet Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington).

From the minute Hoyt engages Harris in a polite conversation he knows this wont be a typical assignment. Harris becomes agitated and says since you have obviously spoiled my morning paper now you have to entertain me.

Their conversation in the coffee shop is a foreshadowing of what Hoyt’s first day on the job is going to be. As Hoyt becomes more and more familiar with his new partner he quickly realizes that to be a narcotics officer you have to be as ruthless and as cutthroat as the dealers themselves. It also seems that Alonzo has no problem absorbing that part of the job.

Can Hoyt become what Alonzo wants him to be? Does he have the ability to flush his morals down the toilet of corruption? Well that’s what his “training day” is all about. Is he the wolf or the sheep?

This isn’t your typical Denzel Washington film but it his performance that is the showcase of the piece. From the moment his character is introduced we know this guy is a “bad-ass”. But because Washington is playing the role I think we like him way past where we probably should.

If a different actor had played Alonzo I do believe his likeability would have evaporated 5 minutes after leaving the coffee shop. This I see could be a flaw in the film’s script. The film, screenwriter and director have a lot to be thankful for when casting Washington as Alonzo.

I liked Hawke’s turn as action hero and he could have the appeal of a Keanu Reeves given the proper project. In this film he is so over-powered by Washington he doesn’t really have the ability to shine. He is sort of like what Michael Keaton was to Jack Nicholson’s Joker. Denzel is this film’s Joker. It’s basically where the villain’s acting power makes the hero look like pudding.

I liked how the film is contained in a Hollywood day, how the corruption plays with the rookie, the hidden plot boiling beneath Alonzo, and the film’s quick pacing. I however had problems with the film’s layout; some aspects of plot revelation and situations that made me think, “Who are these guys again?”

When this film finished I did wonder if Hollywood could make a film such as this but reverse the race roles. We have seen this kind of story in films like “Bad Company”, “Deep Cover” and “In Too Deep”.

In a lot of circumstances these films were better because they didn’t really question the race issue. I do believe this film does question it on some levels.

Why does it have to be a black neighborhood that is corrupt? Why can’t we have a film where a black detective has to infiltrate a white neighborhood or even an ivy-league university?

There is corruption there too you know. The only film that comes to mind that does reverse the race roles is “Beverly Hills Cop” and it was a comedy. Come on Hollywood let’s see a film that really blurs the racial line. Why not give us a story like this but with a new racial twist?

3.5 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer.

Written: September 23, 2001

One thought on “Retro Review: Training Day

  1. 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.

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