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Starring: Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Scott Glen, Cliff Curtis, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Written by: David Ayer
Cinematography by: Mauro Fiore
Music by Mark Mancina
Warner Brothers Pictures
Running Time: 2 hours
Rated R for profanity, nudity, violence, drug use.
Denzel Washington (The Hurricane) is back in action with Training Day, a film about the first day of a rookie narcotics cop. No, Denzel isn't the rookie, he's the teacher. The young cop is Ethan Hawke (Hamlet) who had better learn fast if he's going to survive on the streets of Los Angeles. David Ayer, the man who wrote The Fast and the Furious, wrote Training Day and it's directed by Antoine Fequa (Bait). Expect cruising shots of flashy cars and moody guys. Also in the cast are Scott Glenn, Tom Berenger (look closely, you might miss him) and Cliff Curtis.
For Jake (Hawke), it's the first day on the job in a top undercover narcotics unit of the LAPD. Jake's "teacher", is Alonzo (Washington), head of the unit, who is starting to believe the street myth about himself. Alonzo prowls the streets of Los Angeles like a hungry tiger. He lets little fish (would-be rapists) go to catch the big crooks, but only the big ones who can benefit him. Alonzo's car, a black Monte Carlo with hydraulics, lets you know just exactly who is in the neighborhood. His entry is reminiscent of Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now slowly going into Marlon Brando's stronghold. Do you have to follow in this fallen angelís footsteps to succeed? Can you carve your own path? These are questions Jake must answer if he is to last 24 hours on the streets of Los Angeles. As Alonzo puts it, "You have to decide if you're a sheep or a wolf. If you want to go to the grave or if you want to go home." Watch for cameos by music stars Dr. Dre, Macy Gray and Snoop Dogg proving that some musicians are all right actors.
The two men are essentially the film. Denzel Washington turns in a sterling performance as the cop who straddles both sides of the law. If you were disappointed in Hawke's Hamlet, rest assured, he redeems himself here. The two actors play off each other well, with Hawke becoming hardened as the day goes along. He ages a lifetime in eight hours with the ever-present threat of death. The film does a fair job of exploring the issues of crime and punishment, except for the tacked-on ending. Leave well enough alone.
Copyright 2001 Marie Asner
Are we ready to watch violent movies about drugs and crooked cops? If the box numbers from this past weekend are any indication, the answer is a resounding yes. Training Day, which was supposed to open Sept. 21, instead took top honors in the dollars category after opening last Friday. Of course, a well-acted movie starring Denzel Washington might have been a much greater draw than its provocative storyline.
Training Day centers on one day in the life of rookie L.A. cop Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke). It's his first day on the streets of the narcotics unit, and he's been paired with charismatic veteran Alonzo Harris (Washington). They start off at a local diner and, before the day is over, Jake and Alonzo will have made drug busts, broken up an attempted rape, and seized $4 million in drug profits. More significantly, though, Jake will have crossed the line from innocent idealist to hardened realist, a transition not altogether pleasant, to say the least.
The catalyst in Jake's metamorphosis is Alonzo, a detective whose 13-year career includes numerous decorations but also an uneasy relationship with department procedure. Our first indication that Alonzo isn't your standard-issue cop is his vehicle, a beautiful jet-black, a 79 Monte Carlo, complete with hydraulic suspension. The movie practically fetishsizes the car with its numerous close ups; but with a prop like that, why not show it off?
Alonzo's other departures from the norm include using a restaurant flyer as a fake search warrant, engaging in a shootout in broad daylight, and taking time off for a little R-n-R with his girlfriend. At each transgression, Jake expresses uncertainty and discomfort, but Alonzo, who's clearly a master of interrogation techniques, smoothes it over with a question or laugh.
One of the great things about Training Day is its narrative ambiguity. The film is seen largely from Jake's perspective (there are a couple of interesting point-of-view shots early in the movie that reinforce that notion), so like him, we're not sure if Harris is just a cop who bends the rules or someone who's thrown the rule book out the window. Whenever it seems like he's finally gone too far, he flashes a smile and offers an explanation that sounds somewhat convincing. "It takes a wolf to catch a wolf," Harris remarks at one point, and his confident demeanor smothers some of the doubts we have.
The key to all of this is Washington's pitch-perfect performance. Taking a much-needed break from his noble black man roles (Remember the Titans, The Hurricane, etc.), he strides through Training Day with a swagger that Samuel L. Jackson has trademarked. But there's a gravity to Denzel's portrayal that Jackson hasn't shown since Pulp Fiction. Washington's smile and chuckle offer layers of meaning, and his line deliveries are provocative and compelling.
One of the best scenes is when Harris has to talk with the "three wise men"--senior members of the department. Suddenly, he's the supplicant instead of the top dog, and Washington's transition is effective without being showy. I hate to sound like a pr flack, but this is a performance that has Oscar nomination all over it.
Ethan Hawke (Hamlet) has the right persona for a rookie cop who's out of his depth, though that feels more like his natural style than any acting strength. The other characters, including cameos from rap stars Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, are just around to provide atmosphere. The film's lone female character, played by Eva Mendes (Exit Wounds), has been cast merely for the shape of her figure.
This sense of gratuitousness is unfortunately on full display in Training Day's final scenes. There's an utterly unnecessary nude shot and enough senseless violence to make even John Woo blush. After pacing the film with aplomb, director Antoine Fuqua (Replacement Killers) apparently runs out of ideas and just offers up a punishing fist fight and the obligatory shoot-outs. I don't think America ever needs to watch that.
J. Robert Parks 10/27/2001