on March 19, 2002
I must say, my preconceptions about Training Day were all wrong. The trailer I saw in the theatres made it look like a belated ripoff of The Corruptor, while director Antoine Fuqua's disastrous fumble with The Replacement Killers several years ago did nothing to boost my confidence.
My doubts were dispelled the minute Denzel Washington looked up from his newspaper. It is indeed good to see Washington, one of the most gifted actors of our time, abandon the saintly martyrs he's been prone to playing for 10 years and sink his teeth into a role which allows him to show a mix of deep charisma and dangerous viciousness. That same alchemy had made his breakthrough performance in 1989's Glory amazingly compelling, and in Training Day, there isn't a single moment where Washington is less than completely absorbing. Ethan Hawke also gives the performance of his career as Jake Hoyt, an idealistic but easily swayed young cop who finds himself drawn into a web of corruption, violence, and twisted morals.
Fuqua's directing is still overly stylish at times, but after a hyperactive first act, the film begins to roar. David Ayer's script is dazzling, a combination of rat-a-tat street vernacular and relentless forward momentum, and after the midpoint of the movie, the intensity of the scenes would reach incredible levels. And that's when Fuqua's show-offy camerawork finds a raison d'etre. In this film, Fuqua even finds room for some comparatively simple scenes which are really like a breath of fresh air to his filmmaking -- for example, the "you're a leader" car scene, and that beautifully understated ending shot. I hope he makes this part of his regular style, because there's only so much virtuoso camera one can take before it gets tiring, as is the case in the opening of the film.
A white-knuckle thriller, well worthy of the accolades it received. I stand humbly corrected on my original predictions.
on February 17, 2002
In all honesty, I had grown a bit tired of Denzel Washington's "goodie-two-shoes" roles in recent years, as great as they were. His performance in TRAINING DAY, however, has given me newfound respect for him as an actor. Not only does he play "the bad guy," but he milks it for all its worth - his Alonzo Harris would make Clint Eastwood's DIRTY HARRY look like Barney Fife from "The Andy Griffith Show." The last time I walked out of a movie theater so rattled was after seeing DANTE'S PEAK in the early '90s - mainly for its special effects. In TRAINING DAY, it was Denzel Washington's performance alone that blew me away! The fact that he has recently received his fifth Oscar nomination - and third for Best Actor - should come as no surprise.
Kudos also to Ethan Hawke for a great performance and a well-deserved Supporting Actor Oscar nod this year. Any young actor who can hang with the likes of Denzel Washington in a film like this DESERVES recognition. Hawke proves that he has a stellar film career ahead of him.
The Academy Awards telecast is March 24, and my money is on both these tremendous performers to come away with well-deserved Oscar gold. TRAINING DAY is a film with no special effects, no colorful cinematography, and no Picasso-esque art direction - just a movie that slaps you upside the hide from start to finish, with two powerhouse performances that stay with you long after the closing credits.
on June 23, 2002
I've had many conversations with my friends about this movie. Conversations turned into debates. Debates turned into arguments. And there are many, many things to argue about concerning this particular movie, which I guess is part of its allure, at least for me. Whether it was realistic or not. Whether Denzel's performance, while indisputably good, was Oscar-worthy or not. Whether it was too violent, or simply a portrayal of the violence that goes on every day in a big city.
One at a time.
I believe this movie is realistic in all aspects dealing with the situations on the street. There are vicious people who's kill you just as soon as look at you. People who are out to get your money and your livelihood. People out to take your heart, sometimes literally. I believe that there are no clear-cut right or wrong answers out on the street. You just have to stick to some basic code of conduct and hope everything works itself out. I believe that not all cops are the knights-in-shining-armor people would like them to be in this post-September 11th world. That's probably not the most fashionable thing to say right now, but that's what I believe. I believe that mostly good and decent men can be corrupted by that sense of power and authority. And since my father was a cop in West Philly for 20 years, I have a pretty fair basis for my beliefs.
Whether Denzel's performance was Oscar-worthy or not... I don't put much stock in the Academy Awards myself. Usually, the Academy's criteria and mine differ a great deal. But they are supposed to reward people for excellence in film, and on that basis, Denzel certainly did deserve it. You could see the subtle shifts in Alonzo's character from scene to scene. Now, I didn't believe the character was stereotypical. If anything could be construed as stereotypical, it was his street persona. But that was only a persona, only a part of the character. It was the glimpses of the good man still lurking inside that made the character fresh and original. There isn't another actor working today that could've captured all those nuances. No Hopkins, no DeNiro, no Pacino, no Rush... nobody. He most definitely earned that Oscar, for what it's worth. And even if--IF--it was only a "freebie" for ignoring his tour-de-force performance as Malcolm X, it was certainly no different from Russell Crowe's situation last year, when he won for "Gladiator" after being passed over for "The Insider" a year before. And that reparation didn't even have the added wrinkle of any white actors having been ignored for 3 decades.
About the violence... I've never lived in LA. I've never even been off the East Coast, so I can't say I know how it is there. But I do know how it is here. This movie has no more violence in it than anything you might see on 52nd Street, or K & A, or 5th and Lehigh, or the Badlands, or even Broad and Olney, where I saw a crackhead jump on the hood of a man's car and promptly get the [stuff] beaten out of him. (If you live in Philly, or have ever lived here for an extended period, you know the areas I'm talking about.) It's not violent for the sake of violence, like other Hollywood movies. It's violent because it's a reflection of a certain lifestyle which happens to be very violent sometimes. That's what I believe.
Now I don't think that my opinion will change anybody's mind about this movie one way or the other, but maybe it'll help you see the other side of the argument. But if you haven't seen the movie, don't let this review or any other review sway you. Watch it with an open mind and judge for yourself.
on February 7, 2009
Back in the "go go" 1980s, during the heady era of Wall Street "greed," I read an article about a black stock broker indicted by the SEC for insider trading. It struck me that, in an odd way, this was indicative of progress for African-Americans. They had to have access to the inside in order to be indicted for it. In the old days, they never would have had those doors opened in the first place.
Which brings me to "Training Day", in which Denzel Washington delivers an astonishingly good performance as a totally corrupt and evil L.A. cop. The fact that an African-American leading man is portrayed as the "bad guy" is truly groundbreaking, and just another reason to look at this film and be in awe of it. In the same strange twist as the stock broker, here we see a black cop who has all the doors of sin open to him. Like the white cops of the Jim Crow South, he takes to corruption in a way that has no skin color. It is the story of humanity, temptation and power.
Blacks on film have for a number of years now been shown either one way or the other. There is no shortage of depictions of black drug dealers, gangbangers and "homies." Hollywood then tries to make up for it by portraying blacks as doctors, lawyers, voices of conscience or reason, and the most frequent stereotype, the "tough but fair police commander."
The negative portrayals of blacks, however, were never played by big name actors. Washington himself has built a career as a guy more or less saving the world in "Crimson Tide" and "Fallen". His flaws in "Ricochet" are brought out only by a vindictive white man (John Lithgow). In "Training Day", Denzel is all on his charismatic own, a product of a world that he is convinced revolves around him. By choosing to pursue this amazing role, Denzel demonstrates the kind of courage that is rare among actors.
Think of Robert Redford, for instance. Redford never let his hair down. He played heroes and fantasy figures. Every so often, however, a superstar will break type. Paul Newman did it in "Hud". So did Robert Duvall in "The Great Santini".
What is even more astonishing in "Training Day" is not just that a black guy is the bad guy, but a white guy (Ethan Hawke) is a clearly marked, unfettered hero, placed in utter contrast and opposition to the villain. "Candy Man", a B movie franchise of the early 1990s, featured the politically explosive portrayal of a black man slicing and dicing his way through white women, but this was hardly big time fare.
"Training Day" takes all the Political Correctness of the past 20 years and explodes it. Hawke not only is innocent and good in contrast with Denzel, but he is a Lancelot-type figure who comes to the aid of a Latino-girl-in-distress, and later faces torture and terror at the hands of a group of Mexican gangbangers. The actors who portray these guys are so good, so real and so terrifying that if you met them on the streets, even knowing they were just acting, you would be a little frightened.
By no means does "Training Day" leave the viewer groping with the uncomfortable notion that "white is right." The performances are too real and too powerful. It is only in retrospect that one realizes this is truly groundbreaking stuff. Denzel Washington is extraordinary. His performance in this film is among the very best ever seen. There are not enough superlatives, not enough words, than can do justice to his edgy power.
"Training Day" leaves the thinking viewer utterly exhausted and left in some kind of daze, grateful only that they do not live in the netherworld shown herein. Look at Ethan's face when he rides the bus after escaping, through pure luck and coincidence, death at the hands of the gangbangers. He is beaten. His actions afterwards are about redemption, a decision to take his life in a new direction in which expediency and innocence are no longer options. He has been transformed into a reluctant avenging angel, forced to face evil and fear because he cannot turn back. It is the story of Original Sin. Ethan represents what the viewer does not have the gumption to be at this point. The viewer wants only to crawl in a hole and forget what (s)he has seen, but Ethan's character is about the confrontation of good vs. evil that must take place if humanity hopes to advance.
on April 4, 2002
A brutal and disturbing film that attempts to connect you with the underbelly of the streets of downtown Los Angeles, while examining that fragile, thin line between those who enforce the law and those who break it, "Training Day," directed by Antoine Fuqua, is a cautionary morality tale that decidedly points out that what you do and who you are is a matter of free will and personal choice. Beyond the action, it's a study of human nature that explores the necessity of having a moral code by which to live, especially when confronted with that age-old seductress Evil, who can lure even the best of the best across that line from which there is no return. The most disconcerting aspect of the film, however, is in it's portrayal of those in high places who with facility betray those they are sworn to serve and protect, with their flagrant abuse of their position and power, and moreover, seemingly always manage to hold the high ground of advantage over those against whom their misdeeds are perpetrated. Indeed, the burden of proof must always fall to the good guy, and more often than not it is those endowed with a more positive, benevolent nature-- the ones who want to do the right thing-- that find justice elusive and become victims themselves, if only because of their refusal to compromise their own principles. And that is really what is at the heart of Fuqua's film, which very probably will take many viewers to a place they would rather not be. But, as Steve McQueen said in "Bullitt," when asked by his girlfriend how he can stand doing a job that keeps him so close to the gutter, "That's where half of it is--" And in today's world, unfortunately, it may well be that the percentage is even higher; which somewhat elevates the significance of this film.
Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke), a nineteen month veteran of the L.A.P.D., is about to begin his first day on a new assignment, having landed a spot in the Narcotics Division, where he will be a member of a small squad under the direction of Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington)-- if he measures up to Alonzo's stringent expectations. It's a job he wants, because he sees it as an opportunity to really do some good in the community; it's a place from which he can help rid the streets of drug dealers and other felons. But he quickly discovers that-- as most worthwhile things are in life-- it's just not that easy. As Alonzo is quick to point out, "If you want to protect the sheep from the wolf, you have to become a wolf. It's the wolf that catches the wolf--" Jake also learns that on this day he's going to have to make a lot of decisions, and make them quickly, without the luxury of time to consider all of the possible ramifications. And one of them is put to him directly by Alonzo, who tells him he's going to have to decide what he wants to be, a sheep-- or a wolf. It's something he's going to have to know by the end of the day; and Jake doesn't know it going in, but this day, his "Training Day," is going to be a day that will change his life forever.
Fuqua's film is presented honestly and in such a way that it successfully puts the viewer on the streets of L.A., and Jake and Alonzo are credible characters; but the motivation behind Alonzo's ruthlessness is fairly anemic and under-developed. The weakness of the film, in fact, lies in the screenplay (by David Ayer), which though it captures a certain sense of "street-wise" reality, is otherwise rather formulaic and doesn't really have the depth it needs to make it emotionally involving. ...As Alonzo, Denzel Washington gives an excellent performance-- and, quite frankly, this film would be less than average without him-- but whether or not it is deserving of an Oscar is open to speculation. Washington is one of the finest actors in the business, without question, and he's taken on some challenging roles (in which he's been very successful) that make this part pale by comparison. Alonzo Harris is more along the lines of Mel Gibson's Riggs in "Lethal Weapon," or Eastwood's Harry in "Dirty Harry," the difference being that Alonzo is the bad guy. It's a credit to Washington's ability that he was able to make this such a strong character, however, and his Alonzo is certainly believable and real. And, in retrospect, perhaps it is an Oscar-worthy performance; it had to be to overcome the weakness of the script and what he was given to work with. And, again, without Denzel Washington, this film plays for two weeks in the theater and is quickly forgotten when it hits the video store shelf.
Hawke gives a strong performance, as well, but that he received an Oscar nomination for it is the stuff of which debates are born. Like Washington, however, Hawke does do a good job of bringing his character to life, and it is one of the strengths of the film.
The supporting cast includes Tom Berenger (Stan), Harris Yulin (Doug) and Scott Glenn (Roger). In the final analysis, "Training Day" is elevated by the performances of it's stars; without them, this one has no legs.
This is a crisp, action thriller that focuses on one day, the training day of rookie narcotics undercover cop Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke). Jake is to be trained by veteren narcotics squad supervisor Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington). Almost immediately, the viewer discerns that Jake's training day will be unlike any other day he has ever had.
Alonzo is an unbelievably corrupt cop, a once good cop who has lost his way. He now corrupts those cops who come under his command, all for one and one for all. Jake, the newcomer to the group, still innocent and wide eyed about his reasons for being a cop, will be a test of Alonzo's ability to corrupt the seemingly incorruptible. A series of trials and tribulations await Jake that day, situations that in his wildest imagination he could never have envisioned, all of them fiendishly and cleverly engineered by Alonzo. All of them insidious. All of them criminal. The only question is whether good will overcome evil.
Denzel Washington gives a performance of a lifetime and is certainly worthy of his Academy Award for Best Actor. He is at once both repelling and ingratiating as the character Alonzo Harris. His performance is charismatic, commanding, compelling, and completely mesmerizing as the narcotics commanding officer who has gone over the deep end and crossed a line that, once crossed, is final. Alonzo rules his territory and those within it with an iron hand, misjudging fear for respect. Murder and mayhem are the key words of his reign. He also seems to report to a trumvirate of corrupt police officials whom he refers to as the wisemen. Unfortunately for Alonzo, he has come to believe his own hype and bites off more than he can chew, ultimately pissing off the wrong people.
Ethan Hawke gives his best performance ever, imbuing Jake with a vulnerability and innocence that is believable and compelling, making Jake's struggle with his situation all the more angst ridden. It is a balance of the desire to succeed and get ahead with the instinctive knowledge of right and wrong. The viewer sees Jake going along with Alonzo at first, wanting to please his superior officer, even when some of the things Alonzo asks him to do are not only transgressions of police procedure, but violations of the very laws that they are employed as police to enforce. As Alonzo inveigles Jake to cross the line, the viewer can see the struggle within Jake take place, as shock gives way to a struggle for his very survival. The only question is whether Jake's better nature will ultimately allow him to do what he believes to be right. Ethan Hawke's a performance is certainly worthy of its Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
This is a gripping film, with a fair amount of violence. Wonderful performances are also given by Scott Glenn, a drug lord whose dream of retiring to the Phillipines is cut short, as well as by Macy Gray, who is sensational in the role of another drug lord's wife. While some of the film is over the top, it is a film that will not fail to entertain and engage the viewer.
The DVD is loaded with extras, providing a feature length adio commentary by director Antoine Fuqua, additional scenes, an alternate ending, two music videos, as well as a behind the scenes documentary. The picture and audio are both crystal clear. It is a first rate DVD.
This movie is exhibit one supporting the old adage that actors often win a belated Oscar deserved for earlier work in a movie that scarcely qualifies for such an honor. While there is no mistaking the excellent performance of either Denzel Washington or Ethan Hawke in this tale of a cop gone bad after spending too much time on the street, the mind reels to consider Washington performed as well as did Tom Wilkinson in "In The Bedroom" or Russell Crowe in "A Beautiful Mind'. This movie is just not that much of a showcase for Denzel's considerable talents.
To begin with, the plot is hardly plausible, and it is downright silly to believe such patent nonsense as is presented here as the events transpiring in a single day. Shades of James Bond! Whatever happened to the idea of presenting something believable? If we are talking "B" movie entertainment, fine. But if we are going to consider giving an actor an Oscar for an outstanding performance, it might be nice to have him deliver that role in something less than pop fantasy. Shades of old Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit"! As a fantasy escape vehicle, this gritty cop drama works well, but as a serious drama, it has holes big enough for Shallow Hal's girlfriend to waddle through.
All that said, it is an entertaining and action packed film. Indeed, this is a film overdosing on adrenaline, a movie with nothing but ups and precious few downers, except, of course, for the morality play at the end that serves, of course, to provide the filmgoer with a sense of closure and wrap the enigma of this bad cop up with a bow. Yet a lot of bad guys get away with it, and this character certainly seems street-wise enough to have maneuvered his way out of the dilemma. I enjoyed watching it, but felt the performances were not what I would expect from an Oscar-caliber effort at moviemaking. Enjoy!
on March 29, 2002
Once Denzel Washington picked up the Oscar for Best Actor, me and my buddy Ry decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about - that and the fact that the trailer showed that both Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre were in the movie. That aside, I'd recently been watching a lot of the PBS presentation of Joseph Campbell and "The Power of Myth" which enhanced and coloured my enjoyment of "Training Day". For, it seems apparent that the story of the film draws on the basic myth/religious story of the temptation of the hero, the descent into hell, and the choice between damnation and salvation. Denzel and Ethan Hawke play their roles of tempter and tempted with great vivacity and depth, drawing us once again into a time-tested myth, this time set in the Los Angeles drug scene.
"Training Day" begins with a look at Jake's (Hawke) cozy home, beautiful wife, and settled life, all of which will be unsettled in the day that follows. Assigned as an apprentice of sorts to a narcotics detective, Alonzo (Washington), Jake is given one day to see whether he is cut out for high stakes narc work. Alonzo quickly puts Jake through his paces, trying to inculcate the philosophy that in the narc game, one has to be willing to live and operate according to the same rules as the enemy, and to all appearance, become the enemy. Jake's innocence and idealism cause him some hesitation and reticence about following Alonzo's example.
This is the mythological trope, though, and the point that the film turns on - Alonzo tells Jake that if he plays the game right, and is willing to split his personality and his objectives - to be a "wolf" and abandon his essential self while he's on duty, Jake can make detective in 18 months. Alonzo sanctions murder, theft, and deceit, and offers Jake a kingdom in return for his principles. The way the conflict manifests itself internally within Jake and externally between Jake and Alonzo is compelling and deeply moving, especially as Jake finds himself being drawn in by Alonzo both by and against his own will.
"Training Day" gives us a multifaceted perspective on narcotics investigation. We see it from the point of view of the drug dealer, Roger, who is simply looking forward to retirement; from the users themselves, including an appearance by Snoop Dogg; from Alonzo's 'team' of narc agents, including Dr. Dre; and the multicultural views of the black and hispanic communities through which the drug trade passes through and infects. Recalling the opening scene with Jake and his wife, we are presented with Alonzo's 'second family,' a mistress and a small boy - this alternate life Jake must weigh, negotiate, and come to terms with in order to save himself. Jake also finds that he must learn the language and the mannerisms of the streets - governed by loyalty, reciprocity, and exchange - and find a way to keep himself above it, if possible.
The DVD of "Training Day" is full of really high-quality extras. In most DVD's I've seen that have bonus/deleted scenes, the extra moments you get aren't worth watching. Not so here. There are at least three scenes, not to mention the alternate ending, which give even further complexity to the main characters and their fraught relationship. They are so good, I believe they should have been left in the movie, but since they weren't, it's good to have them in the DVD. Absolutely a DVD worth owning, and a movie well worth seeing several times. Washington's performance is sparkling, riveting, and wholly believable, as he plays a tempter caught up in his own intrigues. Hawke is also very good in his role, but it is really no different (save in degree) from the doe-eyed innocent thrown into a cruel world that he's been doing since "Dead Poets Society". Not to undercut his performance; of course, with all that practice, he does a terrific job. One of the best movies I've seen in a long time.
There's non-stop action and non-stop violence in this remarkable police story as the big bad narcotics cop, played by Denzel Washington, trains a rookie, played by Ethan Hawke, as to the ways of the street. Set it Los Angeles, the audience visits the hoods of the gangs as these two cops experience more activity in this one day than most cops experience in a lifetime. Young Ethan Hawke is shocked over and over again as Denzel not only doesn't play by the book, but turns from simply being streetwise into an exaggerated symbol of the baddest of the bad. And, even after the film goes to such extremes that reality is completely lost, I was still riveted to my seat as I experienced the wildest, most violent police drama I've ever seen.
The plot twists and turns and gradually unveils Denzel as a person to hate, even though there are moments when he can be admired. I can well understand why he won an academy award for best actor for his thrilling performance. It's a shame that the plot gets a bit hazy during the last 15 minutes of the film, because, until then I had no trouble with it. But, by that time it doesn't matter. I was on the roller coaster ride already and there was nothing to do but hold on tight and go along for the ride. For those who don't mind a huge dose of violence with a story that goes to extremes, this is for you. It is pure entertainment and will make you forget all your own problems. I loved it!
on August 29, 2010
It's interesting how some of our best actors give some of their best performances playing thoroughly detestable characters. It's as if they were able to tap into the dark side that lurks inside all of us in varying degrees, and play it to the hilt while enjoying every minute of it. Richard Gere playing a venal cop in "Internal Affairs". Ralph Fiennes as a loathsome concentration camp commander in "Schindler's List", and playing the ultimate bad guy as Harry Potter's nemesis Voldemort. Humphrey Bogart as Dobbs in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre". And now comes Denzel Washington, usually the squeaky-clean hero of whatever film he's in, giving a bang-up performance as Alonzo Harris, a LAPD detective who is rotten to the core.
"Training Day" chronicles one momentous day, from dawn to midnight, in the lives of two cops. Jake Hoyt is a newly minted detective, anxious to make the grade in Alonzo Harris's elite narcotics squad, who takes "Serve And Protect" seriously. He rides shotgun with Alonzo for the day. Alonzo is going to break him in to what being a narcotics detective is about. But Jake finds out that Alonzo has his own code that has nothing to do with serving or protecting, and everything to do with exploiting the people he's supposed to serve and protect. He robs the dealers and steals their cash. He breaks into people's homes with fake warrants. "I got 'em all under my thumb", he brags about the inhabitants of the Los Angeles ghettos. We soon realize that Alonzo's superiors have allowed him to do pretty much whatever he wants to do as long as he doesn't embarrass them by getting caught. But Alonzo has his own problems, which require prompt resolution -- a very expensive weekend in Las Vegas left the Russian mafia into him for one million dollars, payable by midnight if he wants to live to see the dawn, and he's not past doing whatever he has to in order to come up with that sum, including armed robbery and homicide.
Ethan Hawke gives the performance of a lifetime as Jake Hoyt, the idealistic, impressionable young detective who very soon realizes he's riding a tiger he may not be able to shake loose. It can't be like this, he protests to Alonzo. But Alonzo responds, that's how it is; deal with it. And Jake is left alone to somehow find his way out of this mess and salvage his own integrity in the process.
Along with Hawke and Washington, some minor characters give some outstanding performances. Chief among them are Scott Glen as Roger, Alonzo's erstwhile friend who has something he very much wants; Cliff Curtis, a hitherto unknown Maori actor from New Zealand who gives a devastating performance as Smiley, the Latino thug from the Hillside Trece gang whom Alonzo sets up to waste Jake, once he realizes there is a limit to his venality past which Jake refuses to cross, at which point Jake becomes a liability; Eva Mendes as one of Alonzo's four babymommies, and Cle Sloan as Bone, the South Central gangbanger who makes Alonzo finally realize that maybe he doesn't have them all under his thumb the way he thought he did.
The film gets off to a fairly slow start but after the first fifteen minutes it hits warp speed and never lets up. Antoine Fuqua directed a great movie that is a star vehicle for two outstanding actors. It's an ugly picture, and we want to protest along with Jake that it can't be this way, but we have to agree with Alonzo that maybe, sometimes, it is.