Besides being a generally tight and suspenseful thriller, "Training Day" (IMDb listing) also acts as a vehicle for three cinema professionals to give their best work in ages. Denzel Washington (the over-actor), Ethan Hawke (the pompous slacker) and director Antoine Fuqua (the soulless technician). They all rise to the occasion of David Ayer's wonderful script and create a vivid representation of a rookie cop's decent into urban hell.
Taking place over a 24-hour time period, "Training Day" tells the story of a young, idealistic police officer named Troy (Hawke), who is assigned to spend the day with Alonzo (Washington), a veteran street detective. As much as Troy believes in decency and the American judicial system, Alonzo believes in street justice and greed. The two embark on a training day where Alonzo will open Troy's eyes to the truths of the Southern Californian streets that they patrol and the officers that are trusted to keep the peace.
If you're looking for something different from Denzel Washington, then I would suggest to sidestep "Training Day." This gritty police drama is probably the best work Washington has done in years, yet he still retains all the tics, wild gestures and monologue-heavy traits that we keep seeing from this Oscar-winning actor time and again. This time portraying a villain for the first time in his career, Washington brings usual weight and venom to his performance. Venom that is only subdued when the script's slight conventions take over in the final act. Undoubtedly, Washington is one of the more talented actors working today. I love his passion and spark. But I've grown weary of Washington's invariability in approaching his roles. He's so unwilling to transform himself into different characters recently, and that rubs off on the films he decides to sleepwalk through. "Training Day" is a solid step forward for the actor, but there is a long way to go before he can reclaim the screen the way he once did.
For Ethan Hawke, "Training Day" is a far cry from the pretentious frolicking he enjoyed so much in Michael Almereyda's appalling remake of "Hamlet." Hawke is always partial to an introspective, self-absorbed character, so to see the talented actor step outside of himself and play someone of genuine naivete is a nice change. Sure, it's often hard to believe the ultra-intelligent Hawke as the slightly unaware rookie cop, but the attempt is there. The actor tackles the role with complete immersion, making for a performance that can match the blowhard Washington and anchor the audience's perspective of the story with ease.
Congratulations should go to director Antoine Fuqua for pulling himself out of a deep artistic hole after his last film, the unwatchable Jamie Foxx comedy "Bait," met with critical scorn and a giant yawn at the box office. I did enjoy Fuqua's first film, the Chow Yun-Fat actioner "The Replacement Killers," but I am fully aware that it was just another slick piece of junk. "Training Day" has Fuqua graduating into real films with substance. A former commercial and music video director, Fuqua doesn't drown "Training Day" in style or hyperactivity. The picture has too solid a script for visual extravagance and it gives Fuqua an opportunity to try storytelling on for size. Along with Washington and Hawke, the chance to do something different brings out the best in the director.
Fuqua also peppers his cast with some hip-hop cameos. Snoop Dogg (who seems to be in everything this fall), Dr. Dre (who portrays one of Washington's fellow officers) and in a film highlight, singer Macy Gray as a drug dealer's wife who knows all too well just how corrupt the police can get. They add some flavor, and I guess some authenticity to the show.
"Training Day" moves almost effortlessly when it focuses on the relationship between the two cops. Sadly, Fuqua feels the need to let the plot back into the film, and the resolution of the picture just doesn't match the power of the first 90 minutes. And maybe it couldn't. Washington and Hawke are such a tight team that any end to this story would've seemed forced. "Training Day" marks brave new ground for these talented people. I hope they still hunger for this type of challenge in their next projects.
Filmfodder Grade: B