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Training Day (2001): Ethan Hawke + Denzel Washington

Training Day movie Ethan HawkeTraining Day movie (2001) with Ethan Hawke: Top-billed in a showier role, Denzel Washington took home the year’s Best Actor Academy Award; but it’s Ethan Hawke who delivers the more memorable, more nuanced performance in Antoine Fuqua’s Los Angeles-set cop thriller.
  • Training Day (2001) movie review: Filled with plot holes and phony morality lessons, director Antoine Fuqua and screenwriter David Ayer’s cop drama has one key redeeming quality: No, not Best Actor Oscar winner Denzel Washington, but Ethan Hawke, who does wonders with the less showy role of a rookie Los Angeles police officer.
  • Training Day synopsis: While spending a day with a veteran Los Angeles Police Department officer (Denzel Washington), a wide-eyed rookie (Ethan Hawke) begins to suspect that his LAPD partner may be even more dangerous than the local gang members.
  • Training Day won one Academy Award: Best Actor (Denzel Washington). It received one additional nomination: Best Supporting Actor (Ethan Hawke – who, as it happens, has more screen time than Washington).

Training Day (2001) movie review: Ethan Hawke – not Oscar winner Denzel Washington – is the one who runs away with Antoine Fuqua’s low-grade Los Angeles-set cop thriller

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

Every few years, the Los Angeles Police Department becomes embroiled in some ugly scandal or other. The public is then reassured that the problem stems from a few “bad apples”; the system itself remains spotlessly clean. We get to taste a number of these downright putrid apples in Training Day, a 2001 crime thriller that depicts a police culture awash in corruption and brutality.

As such, Training Day should have become an early 21st-century Chinatown – a portrait of a city and a society so vile and perverted that nothing is what it seems and no one is to be trusted. Unfortunately, screenwriter David Ayer (The Fast and the Furious) and director Antoine Fuqua (The Replacement Killers) opted to leave thorny complexities out of their tale, aiming instead for the more audience-friendly – and more dishonest – world of reality TV cop shows.

In fact, much like the reality TV fare out there, Training Day features quick cuts, groovy camera angles, and a soundtrack blasting hip hop rhythms that add lots of noise – but little else – to the proceedings. Compounding matters, none of these tricks can disguise the myriad plot holes and contrivances that dot the narrative, including an absurd deus ex machina resolution that saves the hero’s life, and an infuriating moralistic finale that comes across like a badly misplaced “homage” to – i.e., rip-off of – Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde.

Training Day plot: Crooked veteran vs. idealistic rookie

Training Day follows fresh-faced, rookie police officer Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke), whose life’s dream is to become an elite LAPD narcotics agent. Before landing the difficult job, however, Hoyt must first prove his worth.

Enter sour-looking Detective Sergeant Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington), a 13-year LAPD veteran who accepts to test the young man’s capabilities by riding with him for a day around the mean streets of South-Central Los Angeles.

Hoyt’s training day is a harrowing one. Besides having to deal with the area’s thugs, the rookie quickly realizes that Det. Sgt. Harris is a man who has been working the streets for so long that he has become indistinguishable from the criminals he’s supposed to catch.

Worse yet, Hoyt suspects that Harris may have accepted to be his trainer in order to set him up as the fall guy in a major drug deal.

Oh, what to do?

Training Day movie Denzel WashingtonTraining Day movie with Denzel Washington: Nearly four decades after Sidney Poitier (Lilies of the Field, 1963), Washington became the second African-American Best Actor Oscar winner. He had previously won as Best Supporting Actor for Glory (1989).

Revelatory Ethan Hawke

In a showy role made to order for original choice Samuel L. Jackson (the Oscar-nominated creep in Pulp Fiction, 1994), eventual Best Actor Academy Award winner Denzel Washington gives his all to make his crooked cop come across like a fearsome ghetto thug. Yet missing from Washington’s characterization is the effortless menace that should have emanated from Det. Sgt. Harris’ every pore. Instead, what we get is a(n admittedly sinister) performance.

Ethan Hawke, on the other hand, is a revelation. Here’s an actor who manages to add depth and shading to a character that, as written, more resembles Little Red Riding Hood than an American big-city cop.

Hawke, in fact, carries the film. Notwithstanding his (inappropriate) Oscar nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category, he is at the very core of Training Day, actually having more screen time than his costar.

In the de facto supporting cast – which includes Eva Mendes as Alonzo’s sensual mistress, Oscar nominee Tom Berenger (Platoon, 1986), movie veteran Scott Glenn (Nashville, The Righ Stuff), and Broadway veteran Harris Yulin (Watch on the Rhine) – Macy Gray is the standout. In her first big-screen role, the singer-turned-actress shines in a brief appearance as the hard-as-nails wife of a drug dealer.

Torpedoed by commercial considerations

Ultimately, in spite of Ethan Hawke’s star turn and its solid production values (e.g., cinematography by Mauro Fiore, film editing by Oscar winner Conrad Buff), Training Day fails because its makers lacked both the willingness to trust their audience and the determination to be faithful to their story and characters.

After all, a tale about metastasized societal corruption requires that the villains come out on top. Or at the very least that they remain immune from retribution. Once again, think of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. Or, all too often, the very world in which you live.

It’s bad enough that, unlike most uniformed real-life criminals, Det. Sgt. Harris doesn’t succeed in his nefarious endeavors. But the overwrought manner of his comeuppance in the released version of Training Day (there was at least one alternate ending) is what shatters any semblance of credibility the picture might have had to offer.

Director Fuqua and screenwriter Ayer chose to have their bad apple and eat it too. The inevitable result – for viewers expecting an honest, uncompromising crime thriller – will likely be a bad case of dyspepsia even as they wonder, “In case Ethan Hawke’s Det. Hoyt decides to remain in the force, how ruthlessly corrupt will he be 10 or 12 years down the road?”

Training Day (2001) cast & crew

Director: Antoine Fuqua.

Screenplay: David Ayer.

Denzel Washington … Alonzo Harris
Ethan Hawke … Jake Hoyt
Scott Glenn … Roger
Tom Berenger … Stan Gursky
Harris Yulin … Doug Rosselli
Raymond J. Barry … Lou Jacobs
Cliff Curtis … Smiley
Dr. Dre … Paul
Snoop Dogg … Blue
Macy Gray … Sandman’s Wife
Charlotte Ayanna … Lisa Hoyt
Eva Mendes (as Eva Mendez) … Sara

Cinematography: Mauro Fiore.

Film Editing: Conrad Buff.

Music: Mark Mancina.

Producers: Jeffrey Silver & Bobby Newmyer.

Production Design: Naomi Shohan.

Costume Design: Michele Michel.

Production Company: Training Day Productions | Village Roadshow Pictures | Outlaw Productions.

Distributor: Warner Bros.

Running Time: 122 min.

Country: United States | Australia.

Training Day (2001): Ethan Hawke + Denzel Washington” notes

Training Day movie credits via the American Film Institute (AFI) Catalog website.

Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington Training Day movie images: Warner Bros.

Training Day (2001): Ethan Hawke + Denzel Washington” last updated in September 2023.

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