TRAINING DAY—-blistering 2001 addition to the corrupt-cop canon, L.A. chapter. Directed pedal-to-metal by Antoine Fuqua, winning Denzel Washington a Best Actor Oscar for his fierce ‘Det. Alonzo Harris’, the hood-roaming narc of your civil liberty nightmares. Given the human crud these guys wade through it’s a wonder any of them can ever sleep with their eyes closed, but Detective Harris is down for anything.
Taking fresh blood ‘Officer Jake Hoyt’ (Ethan Hawke, quite good and AA-nominated for Supporting Actor) along on his first —and what soon looks to be last— shakeout cruise, Harris’ corrosive swagger puts Hoyt’s idealistic decency to a mano a mano trial. David Ayers profane script gives both actors an exhaustive field trip of action-reaction tension that runs uninterrupted for 122 minutes.*
Only the final fifteen minutes falters, shaking believability with one of those absorb-unholy-punishment-and-keep-going wrapups too common among modern action movies: a little more finesse in the end zone would bump this up a notch.
Like Colors (rainbow sherbet by comparison), Boyz In The Hood and a number of other gritty street-life rumbles, this was filmed in outsider-no-go areas of Los Angeles. With gang co-operation, Fuqua secured safe passage to shoot in Watts feared Imperial Courts public housing project and the Baldwin Village neighborhood–“the Jungle” in L.A.s Crenshaw district. Danger oozes out of the oppressive atmosphere in every scene such that you can sniff the testosterone. Surfers, theme parks and a friendly “In-N-Out Burger” might as well be on another planet.
Beyond the mean-streets feel, a clip-load of punchy dialog and the high-voltage acting, the story logic has buckshot-sized holes in it, the bruising action is riddled with continuity errors and the corruption theme doesn’t tell us anything larger about Law vs. Crime other than that there are mean dudes out there (some driving customized ’79 Monte Carlo’s). Essentially it’s a stare & shout vehicle for Washington: at 47, a showy exercise to extend his repertoire from hero into villain and have us tighten seat belts for two tough hours. On the levels it chooses to stick with, it works. Like Hawkes unprepared rookie, once you get into the car with Denzel you ain’t gettin’ out without some contusions.
“King Kong ain’t got shit on me!” Washington is lethal, excellent as ever, though there was some post-applause feeling his Oscar was a make-up for being passed over on Malcolm X and The Hurricane. I would have given that year’s trophy to nominee Russell Crowe for A Beautiful Mind—but I’d make sure Det. Alonzo Harris was jacked by Russian gangsters before I voted. “You disloyal, fool-ass, bitch-made punk!”
Top notch supporting cast: Scott Glenn, Cliff Curtis, Macy Gray (scary), Snoop Dog, Dr.Dre, Eva Mendes (where are apartment neighbors like this?), Harris Yulin (‘trust’ not first thing coming to mind), Tom Berenger, Raymond J. Barry, Nick Chinlund, Raymond Cruz (really scary), Noel Gugliemi and Samantha Esteban. Costing $45,000,000 to make, it earned $105,000,000, placing at #29 for the year.
* While this patrol was lambasted by Los Angeles tainted-cop-chronicler James Ellroy as “a complete waste of time” and godfather Joseph Wambaugh remained mum, it should be noted that screenwriter (later director) Ayer’s array of police movies include the fine Dark Blue, the lame S.W.A.T. , mediocre Street Kings and the superb End Of Watch. He does give our old friend the f-word a workout here, using it 211 times.
Directing, Fuqua’s headlong momentum and atmosphere capture makes up for his previous urban misfire, the ill-titled Bait, which lost a bundle and set Jamie Foxx back several years. With a mighty assist from Ayers conversations and his actor lineup, this one kicks ass, despite getting sloppy with continuity: how did the bullet holes and collision damage self-repair? how many savage kicks and head-smashes into solid objects and through windows can a guy take and still fall off a roof onto a moving car and hang on? how come Eva Mendes has to take her clothes off? Only one of those questions has a satisfactory answer.