Judge Dennis Prince once went on a police ride-along but was never given any confiscated substances to ingest. He got a cool foil badge and certificate from McGruff the Crime Dog, though.
You stick with me, you'll make it. Unlearn that bullshit they teach you at the Academy. That shit'll get you killed out here.
While it seemed like just another "cop show" with accomplished but sometimes uneven Denzel Washington shouldering the bill, Training Day managed to surprise most who ventured to give it a look. It's a truly gritty picture that obliterates typical clichés of the genre and succeeds in delivering a captivating excursion into the drug-trade underworld that summarily blurs the line between the law and the unlawful. It's not a film without blemishes but it packs a wallop nevertheless.
It's the first day on the narcotics beat for Officer Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke, Assault on Precinct 13) and he is entirely unprepared for the sort of raw and ragged mentoring by department head, Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington, Man on Fire). Certain he's being saddled with babysitting a "pussy desk job" rookie, Harris drops Hoyt into the deepest recesses of the drug world, first getting this new student of his high on PCP-laced marijuana. Barely capable to maintain a coherent train of thought, Hoyt is pushed into dealing with a back alley assault in progress. From there, it's off to the heart of the drug gangland where Harris is oddly reviled yet respected by the criminal element. As Harris pulls his ride-along rookie deeper and deeper into the sordid street life, Hoyt finds himself face to face with something more frightening than the deadly drug trade; he has to determine which side of the law his mentor is truly working.
"I'm sorry I exposed you to it…It's ugly, but it's necessary. Sometimes you gotta have a little dirt on you for anybody to trust you," Harris says.
With that, Training Day is oddly refreshing in its delivery, harsh and edgy though it is. Offering a slight hint of being a "buddy cop" flick, this one takes a hard right and squeals down the seediest allies to put viewers resoundingly off balance. It's unafraid to put drug use squarely in our faces and then makes us fight through the resultant haze and stupor (via Hoyt's unexpected trip). In very short order, the film shows it has decided to take the path less traveled, one that draws us in as we wonder where it might go next. Thankfully, this works extremely well within the context of the narrative and rarely seems sensational just for the sake of being sensational.
What about those aforementioned blemishes? Well, it's difficult to fully believe Ethan Hawke surviving in this realm, since he lacks the physicality and street savvy needed to make us believe Hoyt is cut out for the transformation he ultimately undergoes. Hawke's performance is good and there's no question he's committed to it, but his stature (or lack of it) perpetually reminds us we're watching an actor that is arguably overburdened with the demands of a particular role. Washington, on the other hand, is pitch-perfect in his delivery, especially with the unsettling charisma he displays as he weaves in and out of the drug- and crime-riddled realm. He delivers a complex performance that believably portrays a man who has devoted so much of himself to fight crime that he unwittingly and inescapably becomes a criminal in the process. Easily, Washington has the presence to shoulder the load here and his performance is worth the price of admission (a fact acknowledged with his Oscar win for Best Actor).
While Washington does well to maintain a balance in the realm of performance and believability, the film also runs a bit long and, at one point, seems unsure of how to actually wrap itself up (ironically, this disc includes an alternate ending although it doesn't offer a significant departure from the feature film's conclusion). Had Director Antoine Fuqua (Shooter) trimmed the film by about five or ten minutes, the outcome could have been much tauter and would have maintained the raucous and runaway unease that made the film practically irresistible in its first two acts. It's not overlong to the point of being difficult to sit through but it does seem the narrative drags along some as it tries to wind down and roll the credits.
As one of the earliest Blu-ray offerings, Training Day suffered from a format that was struggling behind the red glare of HD DVD. On this Blu disc, the film wobbled in the wake of its HD counterpart, here only mustering up an MPEG-2 encoded transfer that was inferior to the red camp's VC-1 accomplishment. The transfer here is certainly several steps above any standard-def offering but is definitely not "beyond high definition." Detail levels look good but not jaw-dropping and colors show richer saturation but never achieve the high-def "pop" we've come to enjoy. That said, this is still an enjoyable visual presentation that sports a clean source print that is framed at a pleasant 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio. Audio is also lacking here when comparing red to blu versions, this disc only providing a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix as opposed to the Dolby TrueHD mix offered on the HD DVD incarnation. The sound field is generally well balanced and surround effects are frequent but, again, this early mastering fails to knock our HD socks off. Lastly, the extras offered here are the same as those included in the HD DVD release. Therefore, you'll find the generally informative audio commentary from Fuqua, the previously-mentioned alternate ending, deleted scenes (nothing ground breaking here), a fluffy HBO First Look featurette, two music videos, and a theatrical trailer.
Even though Training Day failed to wow us in this fledgling Blu-ray release, the feature film itself is well worth a look if you haven't seen it yet. The image quality is notched up a couple of marks to make this a suitable second sitting, too.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Audio Commentary
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