Training Day gives me flashbacks of my first week in L.A. When I moved there, I had visions of the big Hollywood sign, movie stars, and film crews shooting movies down the street. Those are the common images people conjure up when they think about moving to L.A. Unfortunately, I had little money and the part of town I ended up in was as far from the big Hollywood sign as you could get. When I was watching David Ayer’s Training Day, I thought about that first week in L.A. Ah, the memories. I could almost hear the daily car chases, the nightly helicopter flybys and spotlight searches washing over my bedroom window and smell the gun smoke all over again.
Training Day is a kick in the teeth. It’s a gritty, raw, and extremely intense film. I could practically see white audiences squirming in their seats the way Ethan Hawke’s Jake character was squiring when Denzel Washington’s character, Alonzo, introduced him to the real streets.
I could practically smell the fear in white audiences around the country as they witnessed what Jake was witnessing; as they went through his paces with him. To be sure, Jake is an easy character to empathize with. Jake is a decent human being and he’s also a good cop, but most of all, Jake is a white man dealing in neighborhoods that are almost exclusively black or Latino. He is, in a sentence, out of his native element. Alonzo, on the other hand, has ceased to become a human being a long time ago, but Alonzo is the only one who is not aware of that fact. Everyone knows it, from Jake to the hoods that Alonzo intimidates on a daily basis with the power of his shield.
The film begins as a day in the life of a narcotics cop, as seen through the eyes of Jake, who is doing a sort of audition to join Alonzo’s squad. Jake is ambitious, and the surest way to a Detective’s shield and a comfy career in the L.A.P.D. is through Alonzo’s crew. But that means Jake has to impress Alonzo enough to be invited back after that first training day.
The movie quickly turns into something else after the first hour mark, and we realize all those “training exercises” orchestrated by Alonzo actually has another, more sinister reason behind them. You see, Alonzo is a hothead, and during a certain visit to Vegas, Alonzo did something he wasn’t supposed to do. Now he has to get $1 million together fast or pay the consequences. Unfortunately for Jake, his training day coincides exactly with the same day that Alonzo is being squeezed.
Training Day is a brutal film. It’s shot in stark colors with splashes of brightness reminiscent of director Antoine Fuqua’s first feature, The Replacement Killers with Chow Yun Fat. There is that ever-present air of uncertainty that surrounds Training Day, the kind of feeling that tells you something isn’t right, that something might happen at any moment. Or, as Alonzo likes to say, “Boom!”
A scene towards the end when Jake and Alonzo visits a house filled with Latino gangbangers is a guaranteed nail biter. You can practically feel the tension oozing out of every second of that sequence. It is that nicely filmed, acted, and written. Ethan Hawke’s portrayal of Jake culminates in the kitchen scene, when he, and we, realize something is about to happen, and it’s not going to be good.
Antoine Fuqua (director) / David Ayer (screenplay)
CAST: Denzel Washington …. Alonzo
Ethan Hawke …. Jake
Scott Glenn …. Roger
Tom Berenger …. Stan Gursky
Harris Yulin …. Doug Rosselli