"Training Day" marks another great performance by Denzel Washington, easily one of the most consistent actors working in Hollywood. Reviewing his career for a moment, there are many, many outstanding performances. Everything from Easy Rawlins in "Devil In A Blue Dress" to "The Hurricane, "Malcolm X' to "Philadelphia".
Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) is joining the Narcotics Force of the LAPD. The unit's leader is Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington). Alonzo gives Jake one day to prove himself worthy of a position on Alonzo's team. Jake is anxious to make Detective and Alonzo promises that after working with him for 18 months, he will become a detective. The day doesn't start well for Jake as Alonzo immediately sets the tone for the whole day and their relationship, defining who is in charge. As the training progresses, Alonzo shows Jake the routine he has set-up and the host of activities he is involved in. Alonzo doesn't walk the straight and narrow and Jake frequently has to come to terms with his own ethics and morals. Jake and Alonzo meet with drug dealers, Alonzo's El Salvadoran mistress, gang members and more, illustrating the fine balance that a detective has to walk. However, the balance has shifted as Alonzo demonstrates to everyone around him who is in charge.
"Training Day" written by David Ayer, and directed by Antoine Fuqua, is a powerful film. The film presents an unflinching portrait of life in the LAPD for two cops who are out of the normal routine. I think this is largely the point that Alonzo is trying to get across to Jake. They are not a part of the normal police force and should be allowed to take certain licenses. The conflict arises as Jake holds true to his ethics and morals.
Denzel Washington walks a fine line with his portrayal. Alonzo Harris is an unlikable, powerful force unto himself, but he has to be likable, to a certain degree. Washington manages to pull this off by revealing a certain amount of laid back attitude. He jokes with Jake and manages to help alleviate the pressure, at times. Flipping the coin, he also keeps Jake on his feet by immediately creating an air of hostility and uncomfort by bringing him back into Alonzo's reality. The story also sets up a conflict between Alonzo and another group, providing an ongoing level of hostility. As the day progresses, Alonzo becomes more desperate and unhinged as he has to deal with the impending deadline. A very, very good performance by Denzel Washington.
Ethan Hawke is also very good. Primarily the straight man to Washington's comic, Hawke reacts to most everything that Washington does. He brings a sense of naivete and innocence to the role balancing that with his previous work as a cop and the fact that he is an adult. It is a good performance that reveals a lot more depth than a superficial 'buddy'. As Alonzo continues to throw things at Jake, we see Hawke constantly working through the problems and the situations, quickly, before he makes decisions.
As the film depicts two cops working in a rough and violent terrain, the film contains a few scenes of concentrated violence. Their language is also very coarse. As both are used to tell the story, these elements don't bother me, but you should be aware that they are present.
Overall, "Training Day" is a very good film, but the conclusion is not as effective as the rest of the film. In a final showdown, Alonzo is confronted with many of the people he previously battled, a sort of showdown. The most obvious person to end the situation walks away leaving Alonzo to confront a group of gang members. The gang members pose a credible threat, with guns at their sides. Who exactly are we supposed to root for in this confrontation? Harris is crooked and dirty, the gang members aren't little angels of virtue either. In a way, this conclusion would present an ironic twist to one of Alonzo's previous statements about the street taking care of the street, but that doesn't happen either. Instead, we have what seems to be a tacked on ending, neatly tying everything up. Personally, I would've preferred an ending that didn't necessarily tie everything up. The cops don't have everything tied up at the end of the day, why should the film?
"Training Day" is a very good, very adult entertainment, featuring another great performance by Denzel Washington.