April 26, 2020

“Training Day” Review: A Compelling Trigger

by Danial Cousins

Training Day is a groundbreaking film about power and ethics within law enforcement. Nominated for 23 awards, and winning 17 (including an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Denzel Washington), Training Day takes absolute control of a narrative unfolding the realities of people in power. Training Day follows the story of Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke), a rookie cop on his first day working in a specialized narcotics division in L.A., supervised by Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington). From Alonzos very introduction, it’s clear he will absolutely dominate the film.

Alonzo dissociates himself from the academy at which Jake was trained because “It’ll get [him] killed.” We learn some of Alonzo’s main priorities from their first conversation: he believes that the most interesting story Alonzo could tell about his career would be about him sleeping with his female partner in the back seat of the squad car. Contrasting Alonzo, Jake is young and hopeful, he wants to “chase down bad guys” and get criminals off the street for a better world.

At the end of the day, this film is about clashing philosophies. Alonzo favors doing anything possible to come out with the “best result,” with methods that are considered unethical or counterproductive. Alonzo best exemplifies this ethical philosophy in saying “To protect the sheep, you got to catch the wolf. It takes a wolf to catch a wolf, you understand?” He feels that at the end of the day he is doing the right thing, and happens to benefit from his actions. Jake struggles against this thinking throughout the film, he clings to these ethics of doing the right thing, because they are the reason he joined the academy in the first place. Alonzo does get results, but Jake struggles with the methods he uses contradicting the point of fighting crime in the first place.

The war on drugs in America is an epidemic and national disaster within the US in its own right. Corruption within law enforcement and the judicial system is rampant and sometimes strangely normalized. In Training Day we see Alonzo, a black police officer, turning on his own community for his personal monetary and power based benefit. The worst part of it is that even though we see the corruption of Alonzo from the start, the things he “has to do” to fight evil and crime in the city, like using the drugs he’s fighting to keep off of the street; the film and Alonzo himself coax Jake (and, by extension, the audience) into siding with him throughout most of the film. Alonzo shows us that he is actually capable of taking down the big fish in the pond.

Denzel Washington’s performance in Training Day is one to be held in the highest regard. Alonzo takes over every scene and Washington makes us fear and respect his character with nearly every word. Alonzo puts people under his thumb with his status as a police officer even within his own neighborhood, abusing his position. It is again this abuse of power which shows the flaws of his character, and makes him a less than perfect role model. Washington’s ability to dominate a scene remains constant throughout the film, making him such an incredible character to watch, and a driving force throughout the film with every monologue and movement.

However, it is Jake who is more relatable. As new to the narcotics world as the majority of the audience, we see the world through Jake’s eyes and are affected by each moment as he is. It is Jake that gives us the hope that we would make the choice to overpower the corruption and evil we see in the world. He takes the harder path, but it is inevitably the one that leads to a better world. The way of solving these problems of drug crime are not through added violence or harsh penalties, but through fixing the system that breeds the problems in the first place.

Alonzo states repeatedly that it is not what we know, it is what we can prove that makes a difference. This film makes us question reality in which we live, one built by people who supposedly have our best interest at heart. It is important to question these authorities, because power that goes unchecked is an inevitable problem.

I would highly recommend this film to anyone. The performance, strength, and art within this film are incredible, highlighting realities that are often gone unobserved. Training Day points out the flaws of the world, but also presents the hope that people will be brave enough to stand up in the face of evil and strength.
[Grade: A+]

Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writer: David Ayer
Starring: Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Eva Mendes, Cliff Curtis, Samantha Esteban
Rated: R for strong brutal violence, pervasive language, drug content and brief nudity
Available: HBO Max
Fun Fact: Denzel Washington has stated repeatedly that Alonzo Harris is his favorite character he has ever played.

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