**½/**** Image A Sound A Extras B+
starring Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Scott Glenn, Eva Mendes
screenplay by David Ayer
directed by Antoine Fuqua
by Walter Chaw In Antoine Fuqua and Dominic Sena's race to become David Fincher, Fuqua, with his colour-bleached urban noir Training Day, pulls slightly ahead. Essentially a feature-length version of the Fuqua-helmed video for Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise," Training Day is dankly lit, grim, and edited with a veteran music-video director's need for speed (though there are considerably fewer cuts than those found in Fuqua's previous efforts Bait and The Replacement Killers). So smooth and accomplished is the harsh vérité look of the piece that the sun-drenched streets of Los Angeles are as much a player in the film as its leads. But the striking cinematography, sharp screenplay by David Ayer, and undeniable chemistry between Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke isn't enough to disguise that Training Day is one bravura performance away from being the umpteenth rote grizzled vet/greenhorn rookie policer. (With a healthy dash of Casualties of War tossed in for that Captain Bligh/Mr. Christian dynamic.)
Jake Hoyt (Hawke) is an ambitious young cop looking to make detective through the aggressive L.A. narcotics unit, which is commanded by the sociopathic Alonzo Harris (Washington, in his best role since Devil in a Blue Dress). Alonzo's been in the concrete jungle for so long that he's forgotten his creed to serve and protect, favouring Darwinism: "Let the scum take care of themselves...God willing." For the early part of the film, Alonzo's raving makes a fevered sense: In the never-ending, always-futile war against drugs in gang-infested neighbourhoods, what better way to fight crime than to become a criminal? It works for Batman, after all.
When Alonzo pulled a gun on Jake, forcing him take a few hits off a bong as traffic flowed past, I wondered if the film was going to be an even darker version of Lili Fini Zanuck's Rush. As Training Day drags on, though (it takes place over the course of one day, and you'll start to feel every minute of it), Fuqua and Ayer grow reluctant to serve a hearty meal of moral ambiguity to audiences with appetites shrunken by years of cinematic junk food, rewarding the earnest Hoyt for sticking to the book while punishing the effective Alonzo because he goes around the bend. Compare Training Day to Michael Tolkin and Bill Duke's underrated Deep Cover and the extent to which the ostensibly "daring" Training Day caves to convention is thrown into sharp, disappointing relief.
The mean streets of this L.A. evoke a paranoid agoraphobic's point-of-view, not unlike the San Francisco of Philip Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers--the California sun is a startling counterpoint to the Stygian darkness at the heart of Alonzo's smearing of the thin blue line. Ayer's script is full of sharply-observed moments and Hawke is an appropriately dim-witted foil to Washington's growling, preening, strutting ogre of a cop. It's ironic that Washington is the virile embodiment of the swaggering prizefighter to a far more successful extent here as an undercover narc than he was playing real-life boxer Rubin Carter in Norman Jewison's ego-guided misfire The Hurricane. The physicality of his performance is a thing of uncaged ferocity that rarely smells of ham.
Using actual gang members as extras, and with authentic-feeling cameos from the ever-craggier Scott Glenn and singers Snoop Doggy Dogg and Macy Gray, Training Day hums with a persuasive street rhythm and poetry at first but metamorphosizes (albeit slowly) into a recognizable grind, even touching base with Blade Runner during the climactic showdown. It's therefore as effectual as a familiar-looking undercover detective. Although it left me with a deliciously gritty feeling in my mouth, Training Day can't seem to find a way to a conclusion that honours the truth of its performances. It's a weathered formula dressed up in slick visuals and good acting--and earns a recommendation as such--that could've been a contender instead of just another lug squeaking by on a decision after a long and bloody bout. Originally published: October 5, 2001.
by Bill Chambers I didn't think I could sit through Training Day again, but lo: it's better the second time around. Warner's DVD offers an outstanding presentation of the film in all respects, from a near-reference quality 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (undermined by wavering black levels) to guttural Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (whose surround effects are subtle and transporting) to respectful bonus material. The supplemental highlight for me was the helping of deleted scenes (there are five including an alternate ending), each of which textures--or would have--the final product. There's a great monologue from Washington that justifies his Oscar nomination for Training Day almost better than anything that wound up on screen, while Cliff Curtis makes a speech that cuts right to the heart of the matter around which Washington's Alonzo has danced throughout the film. The unused ending constitutes the most justified omission: it's silly and invalidating. (Note that in one trim, we see a purported photo from Alonzo's days as a rookie cop, and it's a production still from the Russell Mulcahy thriller Ricochet!)
There is no commentary for these cuts, although Antoine Fuqua provides a feature-length yak-track that's much more analytical of the story than the one he recorded for the Special Edition DVD of The Replacement Killers. As serious as a heart attack, Fuqua is quick to point out that most of his best friends are cops, yet he doesn't seem to see the irony in such a statement; his defense of the film's harsh language (as well as of a late-plot development founded on coincidence), on the other hand, needs to be heard. Rounding out the disc: the above-average HBO special "Training Day: Crossing the Line" (15 mins.); cast and crew filmographies; videos for Nelly's "#1" and Pharoahe Monch's "Got You" (which, like the theatrical trailer, are non-anamorphic in stereo); and ROM-accessible weblinks. Originally published: March 14, 2002.
122 minutes; R; 2.35:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, French DD 5.1; CC; English, French, Spanish subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Warner