Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 2 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Brutal Violence, Pervasive Language, Drug Content and brief Nudity
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Written by: David Ayer
Starring: Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Eva Mendes, Scott Glenn, Cliff Curtis & Raymond Cruz
TRAINING DAY is probably the most well-known corrupt cop thriller of the new millennium and there are many solid reasons for that. The film hooks you from its opening minutes and steadily increases a stranglehold of tension throughout the single-day story. Antoine Fuqua’s notable directing skills combined with David Ayer’s unflinchingly grim script would make for a great flick by itself, but Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke elevate the movie to a modern classic level. Before getting into the nitty-gritty of why this film works so well, I’ll briefly set up the plot.
Jake Hoyt is a rookie cop with a rough day ahead of him. His future career lies in a day-long assessment by hardened narcotics officer Alonzo Harris. Officer Harris isn’t quite what Jake expected. He seems to play fast and loose with the law when it benefits him and reveals himself to have a nasty streak. Jake tries to go along with Harris’s increasingly harsh demands and soon finds himself questioning whether or not Alonzo is someone to be trusted. That’s all I’ll say for fear of giving something away, because TRAINING DAY is brilliantly written.
The first thing that bears mentioning is, of course, Denzel Washington’s award-winning performance as Alonzo Harris. Though this role passed through many hands before eventually making its way to Washington (including the likes of Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Sinise, and Tom Sizemore), it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Denzel owns this character and based his performance on real-life corrupt cop Rafael Perez. The character of Alonzo Harris is not simply a one-dimensional baddie who’s straight-to-the-core evil, but someone who has his own twisted sense of morals and exudes charisma. It’s fun to watch Washington in the role, even when he’s downright terrifying. The combination of likability and wickedness make Detective Alonzo Harris into a bone-chilling cinematic villain for the ages.
On the opposite side of the coin is Ethan Hawke as the morally good, but naïve Jake. Though the character is our hero, he isn’t necessarily a flawless protagonist. Much like the viewer, he’s sucked in by the fearlessly insane way that Alfonzo carries himself. He does make some questionable moral decisions and puts himself in compromising positions, but I sympathized for him throughout the entire film. We get a sense early on that this is a good man in a bad time and I loved the complete arc that his character goes through. The side characters range from crooked cops, to Three Wise Men (in one of the film’s most intriguingly ambiguous moments), and lots of various gangsters. However, none of these people feel like walking stereotypes due to humanistic touches that David Ayer throws into the well-constructed screenplay.
Speaking of which, writer/director David Ayer has had his ups and downs, but TRAINING DAY will likely be remembered as his masterpiece. Little details sprinkled throughout the film come back in big ways, but not necessarily in clichéd eye-rolling coincidences. One potentially silly bombshell is handled in a natural and believable manner. Ayer crafts his story in a way that never lets the viewer get fully comfortable. In one moment, Alonzo can be a grinning mentor and then, he can turn into a chaotic force to be reckoned with. This leaves the viewer on edge as to how the plot will progress forward and I was holding my breath for nearly the entire last third of this movie. The tension is thick and Ayer milks it for everything that it’s worth with clever, realistic dialogue.
Finally, director Antoine Fuqua (who worked with Denzel Washington again in THE EQUALIZER) exudes a careful hand with his directing style. He clearly didn’t want to make another generic action flick or simple thriller. As a result, each scene is carefully constructed and each frame adds believability to the story. The cinematography displays a mix of gloss and grit. The result is a movie that’s simultaneously beautiful and ugly to look at. The way in which Fuqua executes the action-oriented moments (there are more than a few) maximizes the potential danger lying around every corner.
As a whole, TRAINING DAY is a brilliantly constructed, fantastically executed two-character story that happens to be a police thriller. Ethan Hawke’s mousey delivery makes him into a nervous protagonist that we can identify with and Denzel Washington is absolutely terrifying as the charismatic Alonzo. This film also grants an opportunity for normal good guy Washington to cut loose as one of the best villains to grace the big screen in the past two decades. If you want a non-stop jolt of action and suspense delivered in the package of a great story, then TRAINING DAY is a must-see!