Are You With Us? Training Day
By Ryan Mazie
August 13, 2012
Contrary to my column last week, I love a good movie about a dirty cop. Or even a vigilante taking justice into his own hands (her hands if we are talking about Jodie Foster’s underrated The Brave One). Maybe that’s why I am excited for this weekend’s Lawless, where the authorities are so corrupt that you are rooting for the bootleggers (the law is headed by the always great Guy Pearce, with Tom Hardy and a very out-of-place-looking Shia LaBeouf as the moonshiners). With no movie from years past paralleling the releases for this weekend, I decided to revisit one of the dirtiest cop movies I can remember in Training Day.
Denzel Washington immerses himself in the role of decorated Los Angeles Narcotics Detective Alonzo Harris. In the game for so long that he is even more hardened and deceptive than the criminals he is chasing after, Alonzo has the gift of manipulation, which he uses over LAPD rookie cop Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke). Chronicling Hoyt’s evaluation over a nightmarish day, Training Day opens Hoyt’s eyes to the dangerous Los Angeles streets. However, the real danger is in the driver’s seat.
Scripted by David Ayer (The Fast and the Furious, S.W.A.T., the underrated Harsh Times, which has a similar tone of Training Day but from the side of the street), he makes the plot work by having Hoyt so blinded by his ambition to be a detective that he breaks his own moral principles in conjunction with Alonzo’s excellent coaxing skills.
Extortion, framed murder, and drug dealing are all crimes committed within the daylong ride, climaxing with an ending that defies logic and thorough satisfaction.
I couldn’t help, but be overwhelmed immediately by the harsh street environment of Training Day thanks to director Antoine Fuqua’s decision to shoot on location in the most infamous neighborhoods of Los Angeles.
Fuqua’s fluid camera movements make the film look cinematic with a world that stretches out beyond the car the two are driving in, yet keeps the gritty feel of the dirty gang-run ‘hoods.
Not concerned with good versus bad, Training Day’s characters are pitted in a fight for survival. For Alonzo, it is the survival to be on top of the crime world he is supposed to be cracking down on. For Hoyt, it is the survival to come out of the training day with his life still intact. But it is quite clear that both cannot be living for either one to achieve their goal. Thanks to Ayer’s constant ambiguity of morals (although Hoyt is painted to be the positive protagonist even if Alonzo is much more entertaining), I found it a guessing game to see who would make it out alive.
Clocking in at just two hours, Training Day could have used a few more preparation rounds when it comes down to the ending. While I was satisfied in terms of there being closure to the story, emotionally and logically it was lacking (especially in the latter category).
Another flaw I found was the use of celebrity cameos. Dr. Dre, Macy Gray, Eva Mendes, and Snoop Dogg all make various appearances that distract from the aura of danger and add an unnecessary layer of glamour to a tale that is nothing but.
However, the acting is strong enough to overcome the few flaws in the film and the Academy realized this giving Ethan Hawke a best supporting nomination and awarding Denzel Washington a trophy for Best Actor. The first year two African-Americans won in both of the leading categories (remember Halle Berry’s never-ending speech?), Washington’s win was marred in debate. While I think Washington was superb in the role and clips of him as Alonzo will be featured in every career highlight sizzle reel from now to eternity, he definitely wouldn’t have been my top pick in a year that included Russell Crowe’s Best Picture winner A Beautiful Mind, Sean Penn’s all-out performance in I Am Sam, and Will Smith’s best performance to date in Ali.
Hawke is also deserving of a nomination, more than holding his own, showing the moral conflict of the fine line an undercover officer has of being the law, but also being above it to infiltrate the real criminals. However, Denzel is truly the star with the much showier role, where chewing scenery is a part of the character’s nature.
Training Day was released the weekend of October 5-7, 2001, swapping dates last minute with the terrorist-themed Schwarzenegger starrer Collateral Damage (which was released in February) due to the events of 9/11 less than a month earlier.
With a down box office after the terrorist attacks, audiences seemed ready to go back to the theaters, giving the hard-R rated film an opening of $22.5 million (the best of Washington’s career up to that point). Number one for two weeks in a row (mainly due to weak competition in the next frame), Training Day was a success, costing only $45 million and raking in $76.6 million ($108.6 million today) before the year was over. Overseas box office was weak for the LA-centric tale at less than $30 million.
Brimming with explosive characters, Training Day ironically implodes with the ending. Yet with a snaring 100 minutes before it, Training Day makes the grade.
Verdict: With Us
7 out of 10