Training Day

Two fantastic performances anchor an otherwise downhill story in Training Day. This marks the first time Denzel Washington (The Hurricane, Remember the Titans) plays a villain, and what a villain he is. Washington is Alonzo Harris, a detective sergeant in the narcotics division of the LAPD. He is highly decorated, well-respected, and pure evil. He sinks to the level of the common criminal, resorting to crime in order to rule his territory through terror. Training Day follows a twenty-four hour period in the life of Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke, Hamlet, Snow Falling on Cedars), the new member of Harris' crew. Hoyt knows that spending time with Harris' group will mean a quick promotion to detective, he just does not know why Harris' crew is so successful.

Very soon into the day, Harris is already breaking laws and having Hoyt take drugs and alcohol on the job. It just gets worse as the day goes on. Harris continuously tests Hoyt's limits, blurring the line between policeman and criminal, right and wrong. Harris says that the only way to catch criminals is to think like criminals. He has no qualms about planting drugs and guns as evidence, or stealing drugs or money from evidence. And how can criminals believe they are not policeman if they refuse to sample drugs? Hoyt does not know what to think. On one hand, he wants to get to fast track his career. On the other hand, he has his sense of morality and justice, and everything Harris is doing violates his beliefs.

Hawke's career consists of playing sensitive girly-men. He has a lot of practice that helps him here in a more macho role. At its heart, Training Day is a movie about Hoyt's temptation. How far will he go for success? Hawke accurately portrays the sense of naivete, confusion, and freshness required of his character. It is a good contrast to Washington, who literally explodes on screen. Harris is quiet one moment and wildly violent the next. Nobody knows how mentally unbalanced he is. He is nothing more than a crook with a badge, which is exactly what director Antoine Fuqua (Bait, The Replacement Killers) wanted. Because Washington can switch so quickly from one intense emotion to another, he really brings out Harris' instability. He truly is frightening, both because of his actions and the power he has over the community.

The problem is that Training Day does not really have any place to go. There are a couple of endings to pick from, but writer David Ayer (The Fast and the Furious, U-571) opts for a cop out (excuse the pun) ending. It begins as a tiny subplot concerning some of Harris' actions prior to Hoyt's arrival. They make no sense at first except perhaps to pound home the fact that Harris is insane, but because these references keep appearing and more information emerges, it's obvious that this is going somewhere. Unfortunately, where it goes is not worth the trip in getting there.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
2 hours, 3 minutes, Rated R for strong brutal violence, pervasive language, drug content, and brief nudity.

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