|TRAINING DAY (2001)|
|"You get the wolf to protect the sheep. And it takes a wolf to get a wolf."|
|Time: 120 mins.|
Won Academy Award for Best Actor (Washington). Nomination for Best Supporting Actor (Hawke).
TRAINING DAY is a powerful character piece that makes you wonder about the nature of man. About how far someone will go against their own morals to achieve a destiny otherwise outside of their reach. Hawke and Washington give stunning performances as two cops with very different ideas of justice. Unfortunately, what begins as an intense mental game of wits between these two strong personalities careens into a brutal and ridiculous mano e mano physical brawl tacked on to literally give the movie punch. What Fuqua and company failed to realize is what made this story interesting and unique from every other cop drama is the moral battle. Granted, we need to see what the rookie is made of, that he's not willing to trade his soul for a successful future. It's just sad the only way they could think of to render "justice" is with an over-the-top fistfight and bloody bullet-filled finale.
At first glance, Jake Hoyt (Hawke) seems to be an honest, earnest cop desperate to get ahead. A young man trying to prove he's cut out for more than just writing tickets and stopping petty crime. He turns to Alonzo Harris (Washington), a highly-decorated narcotics officer to help him develop into a first rate undercover detective. It's clear from their first meeting that Alonzo doesn't suffer fools lightly and that he plays by rules not entirely on the up and up. His ideas of justice are not exactly what Jake expected from a man in his position. Jake doesn't agree with his ideology, but he only has one day to impress Alonzo with his mental and physical abilities. Little does he know that his presence in Alonzo's world is not at all for his benefit. As the day goes on, his training becomes more and more dangerous, leading him down a dark path of Alonzo's choosing.
Jake goes along with the plan until a brutal murder opens his eyes to the bigger picture. Big trouble is coming Alonzo's way and if Jake doesn't play the game, his wife is going to become a widow. He may be expendable, but he's not going down without a fight. Alonzo tries to appeal to his need for success, he dreams of a comfortable future. If Jake gives him just two years, his career will be on the fast track to success. Of course, his seduction is just part of the game. Alonzo has no intention of letting him see the morning. A good deed done earlier in the day saves him from being a blurb on the evening news. The injustice of his situation angers Jake to his core. This day has certainly not gone the way he hoped. However, if his dreams are going to be crushed, he's going to make damn sure Alonzo's are as well. A bitter battle leaves both men bloodied, but only one walks away to fight another day.
Though Alonzo Harris is one of the darkest characters ever tackled by Washington, I can't say I was surprised by his performance. He's one of the best actors of his generation, of course, he's going to be good. What did make me sit up and take notice were the quiet moments, where you see him pour on the charm, trying to seduce Hawke to the dark side as well. There's pure evil in his eyes and heart, yet he hides it behind a concerned smile that melts any opposition to his schemes. One of the best performances of the year? I can't divorce myself from my disgust at the film's final third to agree with others opinions. It's certainly one of the best roles of his career. Too bad it had to be in this film.
As far as Hawke is concerned, he definitely draws a line in the sand with this role. No more wimpy, whiney characters for him. He surprises with his physical presence, yet makes you believe his ability to kick ass was there all along. He has the less showy role, however, it's just as much his film as Washington's. One cannot exist without the other and they play off each other perfectly. You want him to go along with the plan because you want to see him get ahead. It's what we all dream of. His demand for justice is reasonable, after all he's been put through, but not at all believable. He makes integrity into a admirable quality without being arrogant or soft. He turns the quieter character into the one you want to watch. It's not a flashy performance, but it is a powerful one.
Fuqua definitely takes his directing skills up a notch with this film. He draws two very different, but equally entrancing performances from his leading men. With the editing, cinematography and production design, he turns Los Angeles into a world I didn't recognize, though I've lived here over a decade. He even, for most of the film, brought new life to a tried and true formula. For that, he'll get my attention the next time one of his films comes to the cineplex. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who enjoyed this movie, ending and all. I wish I were one of them. It's not that the showdown is unexpected or even badly done. I just think it's out of place in this film. Or at least what constitutes the nature of the first two-thirds of the movie. That being said, TRAINING DAY brings a complicated and compelling story to the screen and for that, one has to give them kudos. There's almost nothing better than watching two first-rate actors going full out in the name of entertainment. It's just a shame when the total package doesn't live up to the same standard.