- Training Day (2001) movie review: Filled with plot holes and phony morality lessons, director Antoine Fuqua and screenwriter David Ayer’s Los Angeles-set cop drama has one major redeeming quality: No, not Best Actor Oscar winner Denzel Washington as a brutal, corrupt officer of the law, but Ethan Hawke, who does wonders with the less showy and more underwritten role of an inexperienced, quixotic cop.
Training Day movie review: Ethan Hawke – not Oscar winner Denzel Washington – steals the show in low-grade cop thriller
Every few years, the Los Angeles Police Department becomes embroiled in some scandal or other. The public is then told that the problem stems from a few “bad apples”; the system itself remains spotlessly clean. We get to taste a number of those rotten apples in Training Day, a 2001 crime thriller that depicts a police culture embedded in corruption and violence.
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 and no one are quite what they seem to be. Unfortunately, screenwriter David Ayer and director Antoine Fuqua opted to leave thorny complexities out of their narrative, going 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 rap rhythms that add lots of noise – but little else – to the proceedings.
None of these tricks, however, can disguise the myriad plot holes 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 Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde.
Criminal veteran crime fighter vs. idealistic rookie do-gooder
The Training Day plotline follows fresh-faced, rookie police officer Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke), whose life’s dream is to become an elite LAPD narcotics agent. Of course, before landing the difficult job, Hoyt must 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 tough one. Besides having to deal with the neighborhood 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.
Revelatory Ethan Hawke
In a showy role made to order for original choice Samuel L. Jackson, Denzel Washington, winner of the 2001 Best Actor Academy Award, tries awfully hard to act like a dangerous ghetto thug. Yet missing from Washington’s characterization is the effortless menace that should have emanated from every pore of his character. Instead, what we get is a performance.
Ethan Hawke, on the other hand, is a revelation. Here’s an actor who manages to add depth to a character that, as written, more resembles a babe in the woods than an American urban cop.
Hawke, in fact, carries the film. Notwithstanding his (improper) Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, he is at the very core of Training Day, having much more screen time than his costar.
In the supporting cast – which includes Tom Berenger (Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee for Platoon, 1986), Scott Glenn, Harris Yulin, and Eva Mendes – 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.
Commercial considerations doom Training Day
Ultimately, Training Day fails because its makers lacked both the determination to be faithful to their story and characters, and the willingness to trust their audience.
In a tale about metastasized societal corruption, the villains have to come out on top. Or at the very least remain immune from retribution. Once again, think of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. Or, all too often, the 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.
In all, director Fuqua and screenwriter Ayer wanted 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.
But “Crime Doesn’t Pay” message or no, while Training Day’s final credits are rolling, alert viewers will surely wonder: “In case he decides to remain in the force, what will Ethan Hawke’s Det. Hoyt be like 10 or 12 years down the road?”
Training Day (2001)
Director: Antoine Fuqua.
Screenplay: David Ayer.
Cast: Ethan Hawke. Denzel Washington. Scott Glenn. Tom Berenger. Harris Yulin. Macy Gray. Eva Mendes. Raymond J. Barry. Cliff Curtis. Snoop Dogg. Dr. Dre. Jaime Gomez.
Cinematography: Mauro Fiore. Film Editing: Conrad Buff. Music: Mark Mancina. Production Design: Naomi Shohan. Producers: Jeffrey Silver & Bobby Newmyer.
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Training Day movie cast and crew info via the AFI Catalog website and other sources.
Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington Training Day movie images: Warner Bros.
“Training Day Movie (2001) Review: Hawke Steals Mediocre Thriller from Oscar Winner” last updated in March 2021.