Training Day is a taut thriller that showcases Denzel Washington’s Oscar-winning portrayal of a corrupt LAPD cop.
The film follows a day in the life of Jake Hoyt, an eager young police officer with ambitions to move up the ranks. He is assigned to work with decorated officer Alonzo Harris, a legend in the LAPD. However, as the day progresses Jake is put in increasingly uncomfortable and compromising situations by Alonzo. It is revealed that Alonzo is not the selfless, morally upstanding cop he is perceived to be.
As far as cinematography is concerned, the movie lacks anything groundbreaking or noteworthy. However, skewed camera angles during particularly tense and suspenseful scenes have the effect of unsettling the viewer. This simple trick adds to the unfolding drama.
The writing in Training Day is top notch in some areas, while in others it feels phoned in. Glaring plot holes are obvious even on the first viewing, and upon reflection some unanswered questions emerge from the storyline.
However, there are moments where accomplished writer David Ayer demonstrates his skill. Tense drama is handled deftly by Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, where layer by layer the mystery of Detective Alonzo Harris is peeled away.
The first scene to feature Harris and Hoyt together is set in a nondescript coffee shop. Harris attempts to read his newspaper in peace, although the eager Hoyt tries repeatedly to engage him. Their opposing personalities, that of the goody two-shoes rookie and the jaded, bristling veteran are established early on. Hoyt is revealed as an officer committed to justice and the law, while Harris’ more unorthodox interpretation of righteousness toes the line between misguided and corrupt. In the initial coffee shop scene Alonzo is revealed to the audience as a mysterious and gruff yet undeniably cool character that one cannot help gravitate towards. In this sense our experience mirrors Hoyt’s.
In a later scene, a similar motif is played out during a poker game. Hoyt is out of his element, temporarily left alone by Alonzo with several gang members to play cards and drink beer. Clearly uncomfortable, a combination of well-written dialogue and superb acting create an almost Tarantino-like level of suspense.
The clear standout in Training Day is Denzel Washington. In his second Oscar-winning performance, Washington demonstrates his ability to construct a complex character that dominates the screen. As the movie unfolds, Harris’ mysterious exterior is slowly chipped away as Washington reveals his character’s vulnerabilities and motivations. The character arc passes from decorated detective to cunning lawman unafraid to get his hands dirty before finally revealing Harris as a self-interested, manipulative killer.
The relationship between Harris and Hoyt also goes through several stages, with Harris at each point warning Hoyt that he was once just like him. However, in order to be a cop that actually makes a difference he had to become the morally ambivalent man Hoyt sees. If Hoyt is to survive, he must make a decision about what kind of a cop he wants to be.
Suspenseful and engrossing, Training Day makes up for its shortcomings with a character driven plot and stellar acting from Washington.