THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Training Day is yet another story about an idealistic young man who is appalled to discover corruption in his chosen career. This theme is as old as the hills, but it has supplied the plot for some very good books and movies. I think audiences respond to the morality issues. After all, there is, sadly, too much corruption in the world. Only the most callous among us could fail to identify with the character who rails against it.

Veteran cop Denzel Washington teaches rookie Ethan Hawke about street justice in Training Day
In this case, the young idealist is Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke). He is a newlywed as well as a new father. His dream is to make detective on the LAPD. The fastest way of doing this is to join a special undercover division, work the streets for 18 months, then get promoted for hard work. Hoyt gets a chance to work on a team run by Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington). They meet one morning in a small coffee shop, where it becomes clear that Alonzo is a tough nut to crack. He offers the younger cop just one day to prove his mettle on the streets. If the kid can cut it, he's in.

Their day is spent patrolling the streets of some of L.A.'s toughest neighborhoods. Ostensibly, Alonzo is supposed to be putting criminals away, but he tends to favor a kind of "street justice." When they come upon two men trying to rape a 14-year old girl, he threatens the punks before turning them loose. Hoyt is appalled, but Alonzo says that gangs in the girl's neighborhood will no doubt finish the job.

As the day wears on, they make a $4 million seizure of drug money, from which Alonzo and his team skim almost a quarter. There are other things the veteran cop does which are certainly unethical and illegal. Eventually, Hoyt is forced to decide whether or not joining this team is worth the price he will have to pay.

Training Day, because of its one-day setting, is episodic in nature. Hoyt and Alonzo drive around, bust some heads, drive around some more, debate real justice vs. street justice, etc. What makes the movie work is the interplay between the characters. Alonzo is confident to the extreme. He has worked the dirtiest parts of the street and feels that the ends justify the means. In explaining his rule-bending approach to law enforcement, he tells the young cop, "this shit ain't checkers, it's chess."

On some level, Hoyt knows the guy is right. There's a great scene in which Hoyt is about to pack it in, having seen some activity he does not approve of. Alonzo tells him that idealism only works from the inside; you have to get into a position of power before you can change things. But Hoyt also knows that what he sees is wrong. Blur the line slightly and you get justice, but blur it too much and you have lawlessness.

Denzel Washington gives one of the best performances of his career. Alonzo is full-tilt bravado - a walking, talking cop with a Messiah complex. It's a role for the actor to sink his teeth into, and he does. That said, a lot of credit needs to go to Ethan Hawke as well. The filmmakers could have cast a "hot" young actor (like, say, Freddie Prinze, Jr.) but instead they picked someone with the talent to go toe-to-toe with Washington. Hawke has always been a good actor but he rarely does major studio movies. In any event, he is the right choice because he plays Hoyt's indecision as well as his righteousness. The character eventually makes a decision, but not until he's absorbed a lot of confusing viewpoints.

Training Day has been sharply directed by Antoine Fugua (The Replacement Killers). If you stop and think about it, the plot actually becomes very unrealistic the longer it goes on. The grim ending is particularly unlikely, partly because the violence is amped up to near superhuman proportions. It's easy to forget about that while you're watching the film, though, because the battle between right and wrong is so compellingly done. By keeping the pace brisk - and allowing Washington and Hawke to do their thing - Fugua turns out an entertaining, morally satisfying movie.

( out of four)

Training Day is rated R for strong brutal violence, pervasive language, drug content and brief nudity. The running time is 2 hours and 3 minutes.
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