Training Day (2001)
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Denzel Washington has a reputation for playing heroic, morally pure characters. From “Philadelphia” to “John Q” to “Unstoppable,” so many of Washington’s characters are wholly good. But it was in 2001’s “Training Day,” playing vulgar, corrupt detective Alonzo Harris, that Washington hit his career peak.
Harris has been in narcotics for nearly two decades, and he has a reputation for making respected detectives out of newbie cops. Now it’s training day for Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke), a young family man hoping to make detective. As Harris spends the day training Hoyt on what it means to be a narcotics officer, Hoyt discovers the real meaning of street justice and learns that, sometimes, it takes a wolf to catch a wolf.
Harris is fifty shades of messed up, and good ol’ boy Denzel has a ball cracking vulgar jokes and playing this twisted, crooked cop. But he nails it. He does bad so, so good. In fact, he earned his second Oscar (his only for Best Actor) for the role. Screenwriter David Ayer (“Fury”) makes Harris into more than a corrupt cop stereotype. Even though the story takes place in the span of a day, Harris becomes a well-rounded character with a distinct arc. And Hawke is his perfect opposite. He’s always been the everyman type, but here you buy into his normality more than ever. You can read Hoyt’s inner-struggles on Hawke’s face. “Training Day” also gets solid support from several key players in small roles. Eva Mendes, Snoop Dogg, and Macy Gray all bring their A-game, even with only a few minutes of screen-time.
“Training Day” brings you into downtown L.A. with gritty, intimate cinematography (Mauro Fiore, “Avatar”) and a concrete jungle soundtrack. You can practically feel the heat rise from the asphalt. Without that, you might not stay interested in the slow-burning crime drama unfolding. And no movie gets my full recommendation without a solid ending. Thankfully, “Training Day” has an earth-shatteringly good finale, full of excitement and closure that wraps up the story better than anything else could have.