Let’s talk about Training Day (2001; dir. Antoine Fuqua).
Modern-day L.A.: Jake, a rookie cop (Ethan Hawke, in an Oscar-nominated performance), has one day to prove himself to Alonzo (Denzel Washington, in an Oscar-winning performance), a corrupt narcotics officer and Jake’s new superior. Jake is out of his depth. Over 24 hours, he’ll question the limits to which he may need to go to impress Alonzo. He’ll doubt the bounds of justice. Jake’s training day will be a hazy ethical quagmire. Either he takes a bite—or he ships back to the Valley, to cut parking tickets. What’ll he do?
I’ve seen this movie several times. In many respects, it’s ridiculous. Cops who drink and drive on duty? Check. A character who’s strong enough after the Russian mob hits him with a fusillade of machine-gun bullets to step outside his car and die Sonny Corleone-style? Check. As Jake’s trial by fire unfolds, Alonzo (and, by extension, the film) becomes more cartoonishly sinister. The various twists and turns pile into one big repugnant mishmash. The rot among L.A.’s finest flows from the top and infects all. Ok, fine. Is there more to the movie? Perhaps.
Fuqua and the scenarist David Ayer stretch credulity with big-leap coincidences; with characters who sometimes behave in a pulpy, even superhuman fashion. You might be hard-pressed to suspend your disbelief… but for a few things:
As magnetic as ever, Washington sinks his chompers into his role. It’s an absolute joy to watch. Hawke conveys an idealistic choirboy, but Alonzo shouldn’t dismiss Jake. We can see the end coming long before it does, but Washington and Hawke help make Training Day a rich game of chess (not checkers!) between Jake and Alonzo. The latter’s a smart, if sick, wolf. Alonzo catalyzes Jake’s rite of passage into a true agent of justice. As the means by which Jake can be a genuine hero, Alonzo is both likable and detestable. We root for him to be good enough to test Jake’s mettle, but also bad enough to be the crime goliath we want Jake to dispatch.
That’s no small feat. And Washington pulls all the stops. Alonzo breathes. Washington’s confidence—his don’t-f*ck-with-me nerve, both ferocious and cool—is a thing to behold.
Fuqua’s attention to detail is something, too. Shot on location in and around downtown L.A., Training Day is dark. While the story becomes more convoluted and harder to believe, you feel you’re there, on the meanest of mean streets; that danger is around every corner. You may dislike the mixture of street realism and near-comic pulp (so many of the bad guy performances are over the top). I like it. It gives the actors a believable stage upon which to do their thing. Correctly, Fuqua sensed that Training Day should be, more than anything else, a horror film. To grow up, a boy must trek through a wilderness to slay a dragon. Training Day is a play on that.
Last, the movie comes studded with a rock-solid supporting cast. With limited screen time, Tom Berenger, Raymond Cruz, Cliff Curtis, Snoop Dog, Dr. Dre, Scott Glenn, Macy Gray, Peter Greene, Eva Mendes, Harris Yulin, and others make themselves felt in roles that could have been mere cliches.
For all these reasons, Training Day is more than just your average crime thriller. And they’re why I revisit the movie. It’s an entertaining flick.
Warner Bros.’s new 4K UHD Blu-ray combo pack of the movie is nothing at which to sneer. Besides a separate 4K disc and a Blu-ray disc, you can download a digital copy of the film. On the Blu-ray, you have access to older special features: Pharoahe Monch’s “Got You” music video; Nelly’s “#1” music video; deleted scenes; Fuqua’s audio commentary; a making-of featurette; and alternative endings.