Should I Watch..? 'Training Day'
What's the big deal?
Training Day is a crime thriller film released in 2001 and was written by David Ayer. Directed by Antoine Fuqua who was directing only his second feature film, the movie follows a rookie cop assigned to study the techniques of a veteran narc officer whose methods are decidedly not within the limits of the law. The film starred Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke as well as supporting performances from Eva Mendes, Dr Dre, Macy Gray and Snoop Dogg. The film was made with the support of many of the local gangs in the Los Angeles area, allowing the film to be shot on location in areas normally considered unsafe. Released to a warm critical reception from critics, the film would go on to earn more than $104 million worldwide and secure Washington a Best Actor Oscar at that year's Academy Award ceremony. The film would be followed by a sequel TV series in 2017 with none of the film's cast involved but the series was cancelled after just one season.
What's it about?
Jake Hoyt, an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department, is assigned for an evaluation with veteran undercover officer Alonzo Harris - a highly respected and decorated Narc operating among some of LA's most dangerous gangs. However, Harris is known to be a corrupt cop along with a number of other LAPD officers. Harris warns Hoyt that the day will show him some uncomfortable truths and strongly implies that the line between good and evil needs to be crossed in order to get the job done. Hoyt initially maintains that it's possible to go undercover without crossing the line but pretty soon, he realises just how far Harris has gone.
Forced by Harris to consume confiscated drugs, Hoyt watches Harris as he tears through LA's gangland in order to accumulate some serious funding before midnight in order to pay off some Russian gangsters. As Hoyt struggles with his conscious as he is dragged into Harris' schemes, he finds he has nowhere to turn in order to bring Harris back. But can this rookie turn Harris back onto the side of the law or has he gone too far?
Detective Alonzo Harris
Officer Jake Hoyt
Release Date (UK)
1st February, 2002
Crime, Drama, Thriller
Best Actor (Washington)
Academy Award Nominations
Best Supporting Actor (Hawke)
What's to like?
Timing is sometimes an overlooked factor in a film's success or failure and Training Day benefits from coming out around the time that the story broke regarding real-life LAPD officers operating in ways very similar to characters depicted in this film. The film has a chilling authenticity to it, thanks to being shot on location and often with actual gang members on screen. The most fantastical element, the larger-than-life Harris, might have broken the illusion but Washington keeps the character perfectly balanced between charming and ruthless. At some points in the film, you almost side with him until it becomes clear that his soul has become too corrupted and Hoyt's goody-two-shoes officer has to somehow clear up the mess despite his total inexperience.
As good as Washington is, Hawke provides solid support as Hoyt who isn't quite as magnetic as the scene-chomping Washington. What really surprised me was the depth of the supporting cast - rappers like Snoop, Dre and even Macy Gray deliver believable performances in their cameos and provide even more authenticity to the film. Rarely has a film worked so hard on so many levels to feel believable and Training Day has such a level that you'd almost think it was a documentary. It's as though you can feel the heat of the LA suburbs shimmering from the screen as well as the growing tension as stakes get higher and people get more desperate.
- Although the story about real-life corruption in the LAPD's CRASH unit hadn't broken until after the film was written, Fuqua has stated that the character of Harris is loosely based on real-life officer Rafael Perez - a officer with the LAPD who turned corrupt after going undercover with the Bloods gang. Washington even grew the beard to resemble Perez.
- This film has the unique distinction of having an African-American actor win Best Actor Oscar in a film directed by an African-American director. It also marks the first time that any actor (male or female) has won both acting awards (Best Actor & Supporting Actor) at the Oscars.
- The role of Hoyt was offered to another rapper, Eminem, who had to turn it down in order to do 8 Mile. While Hawke was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Eminem would win an Oscar for Best Song at the following year's ceremony.
- Samuel L Jackson was considered for the role of Harris but it ultimately went to Washington. Jackson would, however, go on to play Officer Frank Tenpenny in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas - a character also based on Rafael Perez.
What's not to like?
These issues are slight but they do kinda take the shine off a little bit. My first issue is the ending which feels like it comes out of nowhere and unless you've been following the plot closely, won't make a great deal of sense. I struggled to grasp a lot of the dialogue which is heavy with street slang which a very white English guy isn't really going to understand. Sorry about that! I also wanted Hawke to step up and go toe-to-toe with Washington because he can't hang on to his co-star's coat-tails. He seems too meek to be able to take Harris down and fighting evil with almost-evil would have seriously lit the screen up.
The film also doesn't make the most of the morality of the story - do the ends justify the means? At what point do you cross the line and can you cross back again? For the majority of the film's run-time, it almost feels as though it's on the side of Harris because his character is simply too appealing. But I don't recall the precise moment when I stopped rooting for Harris and starting rooting for Hoyt - the lines get too blurred for the film to make an effective point about policing in gang territory whereas I'd have preferred a more clear-cut ending. In a film with fifty shades of grey, a little black-and-white would have been nice.
Should I watch it?
Training Day is a superbly performed thriller that genuinely grabs your attention and doesn't let go. It's a fascinating and plausible look at LA's gang culture, poverty and police corruption which all creates a powder-keg threatening to go off throughout the film. I would have liked a plot easier to follow and perhaps a few less recognisable cameos but the film is a great watch that deserved its plaudits and remains an engaging watch today.
Great For: residents of LA, Denzel Washington's awards cabinet, shattering trust in law enforcement, out-of-work hip-hop stars
Not So Great For: community relations, white English audiences, the easily confused
What else should I watch?
It should be obvious why but the LAPD seems to feature in more films than the officers of any other city in the US with the possible exception of the NYPD. From Jack Traven in Speed, Riggs & Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon series to Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun and Brian O'Conner in The Fast And The Furious. For a more studied and realistic look at life policing Los Angeles, Training Day is a great place to start while End Of Watch (also written and directed by David Ayers) is also well worth tracking down. And while it's not a police procedural, Michael Mann's Heat is a blistering tale of cop vs crook in the searing LA landscape.
Fuqua has developed a broad range of genres as a director, having cut his teeth producing music videos in the late Nineties. While his debut The Replacement Killers isn't that memorable, he would find more success with films like Shooter, Olympus Has Fallen and the reboot of The Equalizer which also starred Denzel Washington in the lead. While Fuqua's films might not have achieved the sort of critical reception that Training Day received, he has become increasingly popular with audiences and is one of the few African-American directors apparently courted by the major studios.
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© 2019 Benjamin Cox