Greenhorn L. A. cop Jake Hoyt hooks up with narcotics officer Alonzo Harris for a training day that will make or break him. Pass the test, he becomes a detective. Fail, it’s back to traffic duty. But nothing prepares Jake for Alonzo, who is slowly revealed to be a corrupt cop.
Training Day could have so easily been bottom-shelf fodder. But thanks to Denzel Washington’s fantastic against-type performance as the none-more-black anti-hero, Alonzo Harris, and — most surprisingly — the thoughtful and stylish direction of Antoine Fuqua, this in fact resembles nothing less than an urban L. A. Confidential.
It shares themes of corruption, betrayal and redemption with Curtis Hanson’s classic, not to mention several tense set-pieces, including a drug ‘bust’ best viewed through the fingers. And all this from the director of The Replacement Killers. Who’d have thunk it?
One can only guess how the LAPD feels about this movie.
For, Hoyt aside, every cop here is outrageously dirty, while it’s the criminals that cling to an honourable set of values. And if Fuqua eventually shoehorns the complex moral debate into a traditional good vs. evil finale, it’s still a damning indictment of the situation on L. A.’s streets, where the cops are so powerless they have to break the law to make a difference.
Performance-wise, Hawke fares well in a role that eventually transcends its repetitive nature. In fact, many of the film’s dramatic flashpoints can be summed up in a single, one-size-fits-all exchange, which goes something like this: Washington: Do something bad. Hawke: No. Washington: Oh, go on. Hawke: (pause) Alright, then.
However, the film belongs to the swaggering Washington. Armed with dainty PC catchphrase “my nigger” and wearing jewellery from Ali G ’R’ Us, by the time you realise that Harris is up to no good on an almighty scale, your — and Hawke’s — complicity is assured.
Marred slightly by an unsatisfactory climax, this is a cracking cop drama anchored by great performances and intelligent direction from Fuqua. It’s refreshing to see a thriller worthy of the label.