Note: it is impossible to write a review of this film without mentioning that it is set within a 24-hour time period, hence the title “Training Day.”
Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) is a young, fresh-faced rookie cop with a beautiful wife and an infant daughter. He is ready to face his first day on the force with confidence, helping rid the streets of L.A. from dangerous drugs, but it might not be as easy as it seems.
Jake meets with his new boss, a well-regarded, charismatic narcotics detective named Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington). Alonzo is street-smart and is well-decorated in his line of undercover work. We can tell right away that Jake is gonna learn from one of the best in the business.
Right away, Alonzo tells Jake to “unlearn all that bulls*it they teach you at the police academy.” He emphasizes the nature and danger of the work that they’re doing, as they plunge into the slums and ghettos of Los Angeles in Alonzo’s souped-up ride.
Alonzo uses his knowledge of the streets to his advantage and is unafraid of dealing out street justice to the criminals he apprehends. Jake is unnerved by Alonzo’s frequently brutal methods, but is reluctant to say anything, because he desires to impress Alonzo with his willingness to learn. Alonzo, in turn, manipulates Jake into doing things that he is uncomfortable doing. As the day rolls on, Jake must make a choice – should he follow Alonzo’s example and compromise his standards, or should he go with the flow and deliver street justice to the corners?
Denzel Washington delivers an Academy Award-winning performance in Training Day, a smash-hit movie directed by Antoine Fuqua. The script, which features amazing characters and authentic dialogue, was penned by David Ayer in the early 90s, in the aftermath of the infamous beating of Rodney King and the ensuing L.A. riots. Unlike many screenwriters, Ayer wrote every word of the script himself; surprisingly, he did not win any major awards for his work.
Fuqua desired to make Training Day as gritty and realistic as possible, casting hip-hop stars Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, and Macy Gray in supporting roles and filming in some of the roughest, most dangerous ghettos in the city (most notably Baldwin Village). There are even real-life members of the Bloods and Crips who are featured as extras in some of the movie’s most pivotal scenes; Fuqua even brought in a man named Cle Shaheed Sloan to be the “gang technical advisor.” Two real-life police officers, Michael Patterson and Paul Lozada, helped make the film realistic from the police perspective as well, and both Hawke and Washington met with real cops in order to understand their roles better.
The film also features veteran actors Tom Berenger, Scott Glenn, and Cliff Curtis, as well as Hispanic starlet Eva Mendes in one of her first big roles.
Training Day was one of the biggest hits of the year, grossing $104 million worldwide and earning a 72% rating on critic website Rotten Tomatoes. Washington, who later claimed that Alonzo Harris was his favorite character to ever play onscreen, is outstanding in this role. He’s both incredibly charming and deeply sinister, and it was basically the first time Washington had played such a twisted character. I love almost all of Washington’s movies, so it’s a treat to see him bring this character to life.
Ethan Hawke, meanwhile, was somewhat of a wild card in the film. Reportedly, his schedule was very busy at the time of shooting, and the role nearly went to Tobey Maguire, but Hawke changed his plans and came away with the role. He ended up getting nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars (he lost to Jim Broadbent for Iris). Hawke has an innocence to him, and is excellent in the role of the opportunistic Jake Hoyt. Right away in the film, we are drawn to both the naivete of Jake and the swagger of Alonzo. The two actors have amazing chemistry and it’s a privilege to see them as the unlikely partners that they are. Obviously, we’ve seen many buddy-cop movies before, but that isn’t the theme of this movie. At the time, such an intense, well-written crime drama was rare in Hollywood, especially one featuring such gifted actors.
While this movie has a great moral message to it and a clear-as-crystal message of right vs. wrong, there is some serious adult content here. As you might expect in a crime drama set on the streets, there’s a LOT of profanity and some notable drug content. As for violence, there isn’t a lot of blood, but the violence that is shown onscreen is very intense and brutal in nature. There’s also a brief shot of female nudity in one scene during the latter half of the movie, and some occasional sexual references.
I love this movie. It’s one of my favorite crime films ever. I hope you’ll consider watching it too, if you haven’t already.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Written by David Ayer
Produced by Jeffrey Silver and David Ayer
Starring Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Scott Glenn, Raymond Berry, Harris Yulin, Tom Berenger, Eva Mendes, Cliff Curtis, Raymond Cruz, and featuring Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Macy Gray
Rated R for strong brutal violence, pervasive language, drug content and brief nudity.