Training Day is a brilliantly written and directed urban blood bath set in Los Angeles's mean streets of drug dealers, gangbangers and undercover detectives. Denzel Washington is brutally cruel as Alonzo Harris, a corrupt narcotics detective taking advantage of rookie officer Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) on his first day of training for an elite detective squad. As Washington's character sinks deeper into completing his own cash-fueled agenda, Hawke's character is forced to fight a very different battle against crime than he anticipated at the start of the day. Director Antoine Fuqua (The Replacement Killers) builds the film's ever-increasing tension to a series of gut-wrenching crescendos that put the movie on a par with Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant.
Alonzo Harris isn't merely bitter about the swamp of crime he's dedicated his life to; he's chosen to lord over the L.A. underworld he resides in as a kind of urban cop king. He and Jake ride around L.A. in Alonzo's ghetto-fabulous office, a black '78 Monte Carlo complete with low-rider approved hydraulics. With dark-tinted glass, the car is a camouflaged implement of war and a badge of jurisdiction right out of Alonzo's warped ghetto-fed imagination. The day starts out early, with Jake kissing his wife and young baby goodbye before dawn, but it passes with events that expose tragic ethical faults in both Alonzo's and Jake's characters.
Denzel Washington is so utterly comfortable inside the gray area of crime mentality that he tricks the audience into viewing him as a protagonist. The close duality between Alonzo and Jake is written into the script but Washington over-achieves his performance in much the same way that Harvey Keitel did in Bad Lieutenant. Washington immerses himself in the role beyond self-judgement and in so doing puts himself out further than he has in more limiting roles. With so far to plunge, Washington makes Alonzo's descent into corruption and evil a virtuoso's study in defeat. Ethan Hawke also gets high marks for giving a muscular yet subtle portrayal of an ambitious rookie forced to learn 10 years of information in one day.
Training Day raises uneasy questions about the tendrils of corruption that reach deep into America's corridors of power. Inspired by the 1998 "Rampart" police division scandal, David Ayer has embraced a slice of American law and justice that is as endemic as the crime it seeks to annihilate.