Training Day

The tagline of Training Day is “The only thing more dangerous than the line being crossed is the cop who will cross it.” To this we might add: The only thing more annoying than a dark, cynical pose being affected is the Hollywood thriller that will shy away from it at the end. Training Day spends much of its running time telling us, in wised-up, street-smart tones, that you have to become a wolf to catch a wolf; whatever disreputable charge it carries derives from this down-and-dirty outlook, so when the movie backtracks and says a wolf who catches other wolves is still a wolf, it ends up not meaning much. Either go all the way, or don’t go there.

Veteran L.A. narc Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) is the author of the wolf metaphor, among many others. Alonzo sees himself as a hard-bitten combat veteran who long ago lost any ideals or illusions about human nature. Rookie cop Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) is assigned to train under Alonzo’s supervision, ostensibly to prove he has the right stuff to serve in Alonzo’s unit. Like all fresh-faced rookies, Jake has been given a warm and beautiful wife and baby daughter, as if we wouldn’t care about the fate of a single, childless cop.

Jake rides around the hellholes of L.A. with Alonzo, who relishes giving the new white boy a guided tour of places white boys aren’t welcome. For a while, David Ayers’ script toys with the notion that Alonzo is the kind of shady-ethics cop that’s needed to get the job done; and if this were a more serious movie, we might be given to think about how the brutal demands of the job might turn some cops into monsters battling with monsters (while other officers retain their essential decency). The movie could’ve been about what kind of person becomes a bad cop and what kind stays clean, or at least settles for doing no harm.

But this isn’t a serious movie, despite Denzel Washington in full eruption and giving his calloused lines more weight and authority than they deserve. Denzel Washington is this movie — it’s his anti-star vehicle, his chance to stretch his legs in a compelling rare unsympathetic turn. To defuse charges of racism, the movie carefully includes its share of corrupt white officers, lurking in shadows in a restaurant and casually talking about executing a criminal who hoodwinked the court system (the scene could’ve been lifted whole and breathing from The Star Chamber, in which a group of frustrated judges banded together for vengeance). But essentially Training Day is about a noble white man against a corrupt black man.

The movie plays at realism; it plays at a lot of things. But eventually Hollywood takes over — the last act is particularly shameful in this regard, and poor Ethan Hawke (who tries hard, but is miscast) takes so much punishment that you begin to wonder if his character should headline the sequel to Unbreakable. (He bleeds a lot, but he suffers about ten separate mishaps that should have put him in the hospital.) Director Antoine Fuqua, who previously distinguished himself by making a bad Chow Yun-Fat thriller (The Replacement Killers), opts for a brand of rock-video flash slightly different from that film; this time, what he’s selling is the dark and dangerous energy of the street, but he’s still in the selling business.

Watching Training Day, I kept remembering a better thriller about a weary black cop, his eager white partner, and their contrasting ideologies — Seven, whose ending was about as bleak as you can imagine, but which did not send me off vaguely depressed and feeling manipulated. Perhaps it’s because in that film, the war of ideas meant something, and so did the price paid for it. Here, what you get is a two-hour wallow that invites you to accept it as the real world, only to turn on a dime into the fake Hollywood world.

Explore posts in the same categories: overrated, thriller

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