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TRAINING DAY

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Scott Glenn, Cliff Curtis, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 122 Minutes
Release Date: March 19, 2002

“In this business, you’ve got to have a little dirt on you for anybody to trust you.”

Film ****

Denzel Washington is perhaps one of the greatest actors the cinema will ever have the pleasure of. He has displayed a level of charisma and realism in his performances than most actors are even capable of. For the longest time, he has made a name for himself in playing good-hearted protagonists (Courage Under Fire, Crimson Tide, The Siege) as well as true-life figures (Malcolm X, The Hurricane, Remember the Titans). Given this track record, Denzel has made a bold career move to portray a character that is totally 180 from the aforementioned portrayals. For an actor who is known to be consistently intense in his performance, no matter what the characterization, Training Day gives Washington the opportunity to sink his intense charisma into the role of a memorable movie villain.

In addition to being a fascinating character piece for Washington, Training Day is by far the most superior and gripping cop movie to come from Hollywood in a long, long time. The driving force behind the brilliance of the movie is Washington’s performance, which is very much the worthy choice in this year’s Oscar race. He plays Alonzo Harris, a veteran undercover narcotics officer whose tactics in dispensing justice is not exactly what is taught at the academy. He cruises up and down the rotten neighborhoods in Los Angeles, in his shiny Monte Carlo, which he dubs “the office”, as something of a god-like figure. Alonzo has trained many rookies before, and his latest apprentice is young, idealistic Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke), who is willing to do anything he can in order to make detective, but being in the clutches of Alonzo, it won’t be necessarily easy.

Following a brief drug bust, Alonzo forces Jake to smoke the pot they just confiscated, feeding to his brain that not only should a good narc know a lot about drugs, but should also in fact have drugs in his system. At first Jake resists, but after Alonzo whips his gun out right at Jake’s face, he goes along, feeling he’ll have no other choice. Another rule to follow in Alonzo’s world of undercover work is to resist drugs from a dealer is to end up dead. Later, the two stop a pair of homeless thugs from raping a school girl, but instead of arresting them, Alonzo gives the two a beat with a inch of their lives, and then leaves them lying on the ground in immense pain. At this point, it is clear that Alonzo is in favor of “street justice”, as opposed to locking them up in a cell, something that Jake is in serious disagreement with.

During the remainder of their first day, Alonzo and Jake engage in a number of questionable scenarios. They chase down a drug peddler, which is followed by a phony drug raid. The two then meet up at a rendezvous at a restaurant with a group of top cops, dressed in suits, who handle payoffs and grafts. Alonzo then takes Jake, along with a crew he has assembled, to knock down and steal money from one of his informants. When Jake witnesses his training officer kill a man in cold blood and plotting a phony self-defense scenario, he sees, as well as us, what Alonzo truly is, which is that of a man who has spent to much time on the streets, and as a result has delved into a psyche that has made him no different than the criminals men like him are supposed to be putting away.

A good number of the reviews I read were positive towards the movie, but they all seem to think it could’ve ended better. While I was kind of surprised by how the movie twisted in the end, I seriously think that it didn’t take away from all of the believability that came before it. Once Alonzo’s true motivations for his actions are revealed, too many coincidences seem to arise, but at an entertainment value, it works superbly well. I also admire the final confrontation between Alonzo and Jake, which occurs in front of many neighborhood patrons, which is one of Denzel’s big scenes in the film.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua (The Replacement Killers, Bait), Training Day is his strongest piece yet. An entertaining piece of hardcore storytelling, fueled by the hot wire brilliance of Denzel Washington. Ethan Hawke delivers in one of his strongest performances to date. A smart action thriller with a big dose of frightening reality lying underneath, Training Day is truly one of last year’s best films.

Video ****

In reviewing the look of this disc, I will go ahead an add a footnote I forgot to include in the initial review, which is that director Fuqua, along with cinematographer Mauro Fiore have applied a sharp look to picture that truly captures the realism of its setting. Having said that, this is one of Warner’s most outstanding looking discs ever, as well as the first great video transfer I’ve seen all year. Picture quality of the anamorphic presentation is terrifically sharp, capturing action in every single frame to complete perfection. No image flaws of any kind whatsoever. The movie is shot mostly in outdoor settings, with the two consistently on the streets. All of those scenes render especially well, rendering neat vibrant colors in addition. A very remarkable release from WB!

Audio ****

A completely top notch audio job is at hand from WB as well. The 5.1 audio mix is extremely well performed in terms of capturing surroundings of the setting of the movie. The movie is frequent with all sorts of music, mostly hip-hop, to a mellow score by Mark Mancina. The last half hour of the movie provides the standout moments involving loud exchange of gunfire and distinct background sounds. An all-around knockout presentation.

Features ****

A good number of extras to glance at, including a running commentary by Antoine Fuqua, an HBO First Look Documentary, additional scenes including an alternate ending, 2 music videos (#1 by Nelly, and “Got You” by Pharoahe Monch), a trailer, cast and crew information, and some DVD-Rom content.  

Summary:

Training Day is as superior, hard-edged entertainment as you are going to find. Highlighted by two strong performances by Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, along with stunning direction by Antoine Fuqua, this is a film that shouldn’t be missed.