When I first saw Antoine Fuqua’s “Training Day” in theaters I found it difficult to watch. The violence or the induced police brutality is very strong. There’s no humor and there’s no thrill. Just an in your face pull over excuse for a cop to exercise his strong arm with his two strapped nickel played Batettas.
Jump to the present and it’s even harder to look at because what the film perpetuates is quite parallel to how many parties view law enforcement and people of color today. “Training Day” isn’t pretty, nor is it assuring. It’s more or less glamorized evil with a good looking Denzel Washington in a gorgeous looking pimped out black Chevy Monte Carlo.
Denzel Washington gives an Oscar winning turn (though I’ve seen him in more deserving and nuanced roles; Hello? “Malcolm X,” anyone?) as narcotics detective Alonzo Harris. He begins his day taking on a new partner named Jake Hoyt (Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke), a boy scout looking cop fresh out of his uniform and into street clothes eager to advance his career and eventually get the kind of big house that other high salary detectives live in.
Alonzo knows the streets of Los Angeles so well that he can literally stop his car in the middle of an intersection and every other driver will circumvent around him with no protest. Alonzo is here to show Hoyt how to learn the streets for himself and earn the respect of the various gangs and pushers that will lead to the big busts. Only thing is that Alonzo Harris is not a good man. This is a cop who uses his badge as a way of power and intimidation. In this one day, with each passing moment, Hoyt questions his own training and considers if crossing line after line is how you get ahead. Does Alonzo truly know what it means to be a cop making a difference? Does Alonso care? Does Hoyt care, or does he only concern himself with his career?
There’s no question that Fuqua’s film is very well made. His dirty, criminally ridden Los Angeles is very convincing and the command that Washington has with his corrupt cop role is all the more intimidating. However, I didn’t feel good with the film after it ended. I didn’t learn anything about race or social classes in America. I didn’t learn that a cop can be a hero. After all, Jake Hoyt doesn’t take the noble approach to surviving his first day in the new job.
There’s a lot of preaching monologues from Alonzo Harris, who is a pretty frightening guy. He’ll stop traffic to point his gun at his apprentice’s head as a means to convince him to smoke some street PCP, because it’s a first step in knowing these streets. Hoyt gives in to the pressure. Still, none of this tells me anything.
Harris goes from one questionable incident to another and Hoyt gives merely dubious expressions but not much else. Eventually, as things boil over between the two men, Hoyt takes the law into his own hands rather than following procedures.
“Training Day” dictates who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. In the film, however, the good guy more or less becomes the bad guy by the end. That simply didn’t sit right with me. All the necessary ingredients are here for good cop/bad cop thriller but I didn’t feel quite good about myself when the film closed out. There really is no one who comes up triumphant. There’s nothing to question about my own view of the world we live in, and there’s too much edge to allow for any kind of suspense. Alonzo Harris is just a bad, bad guy and John Hoyt is never really a good guy. He’s a wimp.
So then what’s left is to wonder exactly what is there to truly appreciate in “Training Day,” and the answer is practically nothing. The film is a harsh fiction never concerned with conveying a message within a real problem area of the United States. I would’ve appreciated a response to a harsh reality.