Judge Ryan Keefer likes the Wayne Brady and Dave Chappelle interpretation a lot more than this one.
The only thing more dangerous than the line being crossed is the cop who will cross it.
Training Day appeared on the surface to be a rather nondescript little film when it was released in 2001. It had a somewhat menacing villain played by Denzel Washington (Malcolm X) and a somewhat gung ho antithesis played by Ethan Hawke (Before Sunrise). Directed by Antoine Fuqua (King Arthur), the film earned some critical praise for its stars, even a surprising Best Actor Oscar for Washington. Was the win merited?
Facts of the Case
Jake Hoyt (Hawke) is a police officer with aspirations. He manages to land a spot in a prized narcotics department, headed by Alonzo Harris (Washington). On his first day, he is indoctrinated into the life that Harris leads. He waxes equal parts poetic and metaphoric about life on the streets. During Hoyt's first day, Harris gives him some marijuana to smoke (which has been laced with PCP, though this is not made known immediately). The pair go to the house of a presumed friend (Scott Glenn, Backdraft), who, as it turns out later in the film, is a major drug dealer. Hoyt is repulsed by the actions of Harris and his team, but Harris knows how to work the system and its channels, and his service history is almost impeccable, with Harris' direct reports often going on to bigger and better career objectives. Hoyt's dilemma is finding out how much of it he can stomach before enough is enough.
Wow, Denzel can sure confuse some people with some of the movies he makes. He can make film that draws a ton of critical praise due to his work (Glory), or gets nominated for his performance in it and loses (like The Hurricane). He has made some absolute dogs when it comes to cinema (Heart Condition anyone? How about The Mighty Quinn?). Then you have Training Day, which is in the middle of the spectrum. As Alonzo Harris, many people seemed to be surprised by the change of pace that Washington undertook for this role. We're used to seeing him play the good guy, and he couldn't play a bad ass on a bet, much less for a two hour film.
But what Washington does in the role is portray Harris as a charismatic person (for good or bad) that utilizes every aspect of his being to get drugs off the street. What he's done is compromise his integrity and morality to get to that point, and yet what is engaging about him is that he is aware of the things he's had to do to get to where he is now. That forgotten perspective is compelling to watch. Personally, Hawke has always been one of those characters (in my mind) that when it comes to urban dramas in Compton, let's just say the last person I would think of that could hold their own is Ethan Hawke. While he does have some decent scenes by himself, the only thing of substance he has is to elevate Washington. Now sure, that's maybe one of the things a supporting actor has to actually do, but he just looked out of place during the movie, no matter how much he scowled or held his gun in a way to maintain command presence. Bottom line, did Washington deserve a Best Actor Oscar? Sure, but not for this. Apparently Russell Crowe was becoming too abrasive for some, which is maybe why he didn't get the nod for his work in A Beautiful Mind. Washington was maybe rewarded for the almost two decades of work he's done in movies, kind of like when Al Pacino won an Oscar for Scent of a Woman. Sure, it's nice to have it on your business cards, but once you tell people why it's there, you feel a little bit dirty.
Not having the standard definition version of the DVD to compare things to (and the only time I watched Training Day before reviewing it for the Verdict was on a Blockbuster night a couple of years ago), this high definition rendition really looks good. The image is razor sharp, and although it does not exhibit as much depth as other HD DVDs, it doesn't have to. All the action is between the leads, so get used to their facial hair and pore structure (did I just say that?). The revelation of this newer version is the audio track. Now unfortunately, while the current audio equipment cannot support the Dolby TrueHD format, the Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack that can be played sounds outstanding. Subwoofer activity is constant (well, there is a lot of rap music in Los Angeles, playa!), sounds are crisp and clear, and in one scene near the end, when Hoyt is walking in a neighborhood where he shouldn't be in, the surround activity is really environmental and makes for really good stuff. The extras are ported over from the original version and they are, for lack of a better word, unexceptional.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
At just over two hours, the film ran a tad on the long side for me. Some of the events leading up to the raid seemed to be more of an excuse to include rap and soul singers more than anything else. The scene where Harris and Hoyt serve a phony warrant on a home was nothing more than several minutes of Macy Gray's annoying voice to me. The exposition before the final scene in the film was also pointless and did little more than hold up Harris and Hoyt's final confrontation.
Training Day is one of those films that if lesser known actors were in it, you wouldn't see it. Washington and Hawke's chemistry and their individual performances keep the film engaging, and often help to overlook a film that was slightly inflated in runtime and somewhat thin in supporting characters and storylines.
Washington and Hawke are not guilty, for their performances are good, but the Academy is found guilty for over-inflating these performances and making them Oscar-worthy, when Washington should have gotten a Best Actor Oscar long before this! Next case.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary by Director Antoine Fuqua
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