October 19, 2001

More Training Needed

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As is made abundantly clear by its title and establishing scene, Antione Fuqua’s Training Day is not concerned with breaking new ground in the areas of theme, style, and storytelling. The basic plot concerns a rookie cop being taken under the wing of an experienced detective. The title suggests, and the first shot of a rising sun confirms, that the action will take place during one (life changing, eye opening, world shattering, etc.) day. Obviously, if this film succeeds, it would be by eloquently presenting a well-written take on a well-worn motif. It doesn’t. Training Day is, however, one of the better acted failures of the year.

The film stars Ethan Hawke, sporting an unfortunate mustache, who plays Jake Hoyt opposite Denzel Washington’s Alonzo Harris. Jake, who we know to be the hero because the movie opens with him watching his wife nurse their child with a beatific smile, wants nothing more than to make detective. Alonzo, easy to identify as the villain by his goatee, is the narcotics squad leader who can help him achieve his goal.

There are other characters, including a crippled drug dealer (Snoop Dogg) who has a painful encounter with a pen, but these characters function solely as plot devices or for exposition.

There is a minimal plot concerning Alonzo’s illegal activities, but it involves no surprising twists or momentum, and we are left with a series of violently punctuated vignettes. While the entire movie could easily be consolidated into one twenty-minute sequence (Alonzo does something illegal, Jake looks horrified; Alonzo justifies his actions, Jake looks guilty), the main body of it moves along in a fairly logical manner.

The first 90 minutes of the movie, while by no means great, relate an interesting fable about law vs. justice, and how those intended to police the populace themselves need policing. The twist is that the crooked cop almost convinces the hero, and the audience, of the necessity of his actions.

The film should have ended with the ambiguous shot of Jake climbing into Alonzo’s car, questioning his choice of profession. But, it doesn’t. Instead, the director has tacked on a nasty 30-minute chase sequence, which is thoroughly unnecessary, and has been done better. All traces of an intelligent film gone, the audience is left with an unconvincing hero and an unsatisfying end.

This movie is saved from total failure by an excellent performance from Washington and several effective scenes. Washington is all feral elegance; his sense of entitlement radiates from his smarmy face. Hawke supports him in fine fashion, although the script never manages to make Jake compelling. They really get to show their talent in their first scene together, where Alonzo ignores, then emasculates Jake. The tense, dialogue-driven episode conveys Jake’s profound discomfort perfectly, and illustrates Alonzo’s dominance. It is everything this movie could have been, and sadly, was not.

Archived article by Erica Stein