Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The release of Sundance winner Fruitvale Station, set over a 24-hour period, has us remembering other day-in-the-life dramas.
Training Day (2001)
Training Day begins on the morning rookie Los Angeles police officer Ethan Hawke is to be evaluated by Denzel Washington, an extremely successful, deeply corrupt detective with the department’s narcotics division. Over the course of the day, Washington takes Hawke, and the viewer, on a tour of largely undepicted areas of Los Angeles, and quickly gets him acclimated to the troubling, morally grey nature of the job. Antoine Fuqua’s use of some of the worst neighborhoods in the city, including Baldwin Village (nicknamed The Jungle by residents), contributes to a dark, realistic atmosphere. Training Day is a descent into something deeply discomforting and bleak; the film keeps both Hawke and the viewers on edge, never quite sure what to expect.
Even if the only thing Training Day had going for it was Washington’s performance, it would still be remarkable. His bad detective is a snake concerned solely with his own survival, while deeply deluded into thinking he’s doing the right thing. (In that sense, he's a precursor to Breaking Bad’s Walter White.) He’s also, in some ways, a stereotypical dirty cop—his seduction of Hawke and slow revelation as an outright villain only works because of Washington’s intense charisma. As the character first descends into madness and then becomes simply pathetic, Washington more than earns the Academy Award he won for the role. Though not nearly as dynamic as his co-star, Hawke acquits himself well, and the pair’s uneasy but believable chemistry drives the film’s conflicts and its heights.
Training Day has a lot of emotional ground, and an equal amount of complex, morally ambiguous material about the ethics and priorities of law enforcement, to cover over the course of a single day. It’s unfortunate, then, that the film becomes a morality play with trappings of complexity. Hawke is a more or less unambiguous protagonist, and while Washington is a clear villain, his justifications for many of his actions—in particular the long-term strategic failings of a “rip and run” approach to narcotics—appear sound and go unanswered. Though Washington lives in and Hawke rejects a world where the lines between the moral and the monstrous, cop and criminal, have blurred beyond recognition, Training Day comes down somewhat disappointingly on the side of movie justice.
Availability: Several DVD and Blu-ray editions, rental, or purchase from the major digital providers, and disc delivery from Netflix.