Review by Jack Foley
Denzel Washington is cast against type as the bad guy in this gritty and
frequently brutal trip through LA's mean streets during one, intense, 24-hour
Starring as LAPD Detective Sergeant Alonzo Harris,a 13-year-old veteran narcotics cop whose dubious tactics make him as dangerous as the criminals he deals with, Washington is charged with giving Ethan Hawke's idealistic rookie, Jake Hoyt, his first taste of life amid the gangs.
But as the line between right and wrong becomes increasingly blurred, Hoyt must make his own decisions about the notions of justice which put him on a collision course with his superior.
Filmed on location in some of LA's most dangerous neighbourhoods, including South Central, Echo Park and the notorious Imperial Courts housing project, Training Day grips the viewer from the very first minute and refuses to let go throughout, working as both an intense character study and a grimly realistic look at the war fought between the police and drug dealers every day.
Director Antoine Fuqua, who grew up on the rough side of Pittsburgh, and screenwriter David Ayer, from South Central LA, succeed in depicting a world in which 'doing the right thing' comes at a heavy cost.
Taking a 1998 Los Angeles Times report on 51 major urban police departments - which notes that, on average, any police unit can 'expect to have ten officers charged per year with abuse of police authority, five arrested for a felony, seven for a misdemeanour, three for theft and four for domestic violence' -Fuqua puts viewers in the position of Hawke's rookie and asks them to sign up for a very wild ride.
The result is an adrenalin-charged, tension-packed couple of hours in the cinema, fuelled by Washington's mesmerising turn as the ruthless manipulator.
Like Richard Gere's equally compelling turn in Mike Figgis's Internal Affairs (to which Training Day can be favourably compared), Washington proves very adept at exploring the darker side of a cop's life and simply commands the screen at all times.
Whether forcing Hoyt's ambitious rookie to get high within hours of meeting him, or administering his own form of 'justice' to a would-be rapist, the actor is on scene-stealing form and was rightly recognised with a Golden Globe nomination earlier this year.
Audiences should get a kick out of debating the moral arguments laid before them, while sympathising with Hawke's equally brilliant performance as the mixed-up rookie.
Director Fuqua has likened his movie to the type of journey undertaken by Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, opting to portray LA's mean streets as a war zone. It is tribute to him that he almost pulls it off.
Training Day makes for gruelling cinema in the same vein as Coppola's masterpiece and, for Washington alone, is a journey well worth taking.