112 – Training Day

Denzel Washington won the Oscar for this role as a corrupt narcotics cop. That in itself is an unusual sentence – not the Oscar part, but the “corrupt” part, as Washington rarely plays bad guys. But his Alonzo is most certainly a bad guy, out on the streets not for the greater good but to further his own interests. Even so, while Alonzo’s not the most moral of characters, Washington makes him so multilayered that you almost root for him to persevere. Ethan Hawke plays rookie cop Jake Hoyt. Ok, he’s not a rookie cop, exactly; he’s been on the force for something like 14 months. But he wants to do bigger and better things, so he’s signed up for Alonzo’s elite narc squad.

Alonzo puts Hoyt through the paces – visiting snitches, shaking down people, doing the drugs they confiscate (or at least making Hoyt do them). Through it all, Alonzo seems mean and cynical, but also worldly and supremely intelligent. He’s not just some megalomaniacal renegade cop who’s king of his own world, or even some Johnny Law with a ‘tude. The viewer wonders what’s up Alonzo’s sleeve: Does he have plans for young Mr. Hoyt? Is he just playing with him? Or is he just completely nuts? You just plain never can tell with Washington’s portrayal, and that’s why he deserved the Oscar. Always keeping the audience guessing, Washington makes sure you don’t pigeonhole his character as purely evil.

The events that take place during the day (as the title suggests, all of the action is confined to one day’s work) imply that they’re all leading up to something – the audience just doesn’t know what. If Alonzo is bad and is looking out for himself, what kind of denoument can be expected? If he isn’t completely bad, is he going to say the day’s just been one long lesson for his newcomer?

The crisp script by David Ayer never lets up, relentlessly pounding the viewer with these and other questions. Moral ambiguity is a delicious plot device, but only if the script is well written. There’s hardly any lag in Training Day, so that if there were any plotholes the viewer would gloss over them quickly enough. The movie’s hard hitting, full of life and excitement, complete with plenty of twists. You can never get completely used to anything in the movie, because few things are as they seem.

The one exception to this is Hoyt himself. Maybe he’s supposed to be an Everyman; more likely he’s just a wide-eyed innocent being corrupted by the Big Bad Veteran. Hawke has the wide-eyed look down pretty good, which is a bit of a comedown from a guy who played a supercool dude in 1994’s Reality Bites. It’s the meatiest role Hawke’s had, and he seriously flubs it. But since he’s playing opposite Washington, and since this is Washington’s movie, Hawke’s inadequacies are easily overlooked, as well they should be. Having said that, there’s no way Hawke should have been nominated for an Oscar, as he was. What were people thinking? That Washington was as good as he was because he had Hawke to play off? Hardly. It’s an ineffectual performance; Edward Norton would have been a far better choice – and he could have walked home with that Oscar, too.

Training Day: 7.5


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