The movie has us following rookie cop Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) on, that’s right, a training day with Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington), an undercover narcotics detective. Right off the bat, we can see that Alonzo is quite a character, a real live wire, volatile, aggressive and cocky as hell. But he’s charismatic, too, and after all he’s a decorated police officer, so Jake goes along with Alonzo’s scary Black guy antics. Talking tough, beating people on the street, stealing drugs and money off thugs, drinking and driving… We’re the police, we can do anything, right? Er, I’m not too sure, but I think we’re supposed to accept Alonzo’s behaviour, for a while at least. It’s the classic cop-who-plays-by- his-own-rules riff. If you need to cross the line to make a case stick, what’s the harm?
Personally, I was never able to buy the premise. Shouldn’t Jake or any of the petty criminals who get man-handled by Alonzo object and report him? I don’t doubt that some cops are dirty, that there is corruption in the justice system, but this is too much! And even if you don’t question the plausibility, the movie just ain’t that interesting. Stuff happens, then more stuff, with not much of a narrative throughout. Not even halfway into the movie I started growing impatient, wondering if all this nonsense would ever pay off. Short answer: nope. Just more scary Black guys and Latinos standing around looking scary.
I guess one could suggest that what holds the film together is the character development. Could have been, except that Denzel Washington’s Alonzo is pretty much the same scary Black guy through the movie, except that in the third act he loses what little complexity, is-he-good-or-bad? ambiguity he had to settle into B-movie villainy. As for Ethan Hawke, his Jake doesn’t have much of a character arc either: “Dude, that dude’s crazy! Wait, maybe not… Oh yeah, he’s crazy!” pretty much sums it up. Likewise, the film never offers much insight: Alonzo’s evil, but he thinks he’s just getting the job done… But he’s evil still, eh? Cue up the shoot-outs, crashed cars and mano a mano action!
Basically, try as it might, “Training Day” never rises above being yet another by-the-numbers action thriller. Director Antoine Fuqua (“The Replacement Killers”) keeps things slick and sharp, and the cast is solid (though nominating Hawke for an Oscar might be pushing it), but unless you really wanna see Denzel doing his scary Black guy thing, I can’t quite recommend the film.