USA, 2001. Rated R. 120 minutes.
Cast: Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke,
Scott Glenn, Dr. Dre, Cliff Curtis, Jaimé Gomez, Tom Berenger, Harris
Yulin, Charlotte Ayana, Samantha Becker, Lisa Mendes
|Grade: B||Review by Carlo Cavagna|
enzel Washington is currently our finest American actor. Much can be said about other actors' ability to transform themselves physically, but Washington can physically transform with the best, as evidenced by how he trimmed down to a young middleweight in The Hurricane and how much he resembled Malcom X in Spike Lee's biography. Striking as Washington's physical transformation can be, it is secondary to his true brilliance. He is one of those rare artists who can, seemingly, transform his soul.
Some might argue that Tom Hanks is more deserving of the current title of "Best Mainstream American Actor." After all, he's been twice anointed by the Academy as such, and there is no question that he would be Washington's primary competition. Both take risks, both have made physical sacrifices for their roles (Hanks in Cast Away and his Oscar®-winning Philadelphia--in which he starred alongside Washington), and both can be ordinary guys or the personification of sainthood, depending on the part. What sets the two apart is Washington's edge. Washington could have done Cast Away, but Hanks could not have done Training Day.
The Big Picture
Washington has shown edge before, in Malcolm X, He Got Game, and The Hurricane, but none of those movies prepares you for Training Day. Washington plays Alonzo Harris, a dirty undercover cop on the edge, and boy-oh-boy is he ever dirty and on the edge. It's not just that Washington gives an aggressive, in-your-face performance. It's that you have absolutely no idea what to expect from him next. Despite his unpredictability, Washington's character remains flawlessly consistent, which is, perhaps, the actor's most remarkable achievement. Washington's Harris is terrifying on all levels, physical and psychological--even more so for his magnetic appeal.
As Washington's foil, Ethan Hawke has never been better as Jake Hoyt, an idealistic rookie cop trying out for Harris's unit. He has one day to show Harris his stuff. Hawke must walk a fine line here. Hoyt has to be weak and inexperienced enough to be dominated by Harris, but he must be strong enough to fight him when the time comes. In other words, Hawke must allow Washington to dominate the film without being drowned out himself--a feat requiring a subtlety many rising young actors lack.
The elaborately plotted script is unfortunately not up to the performances. To ratchet up the tension, writer David Ayer's entire story elapses over a single 24-hour period, but the twists and Hoyt's own character development would have been more believable if Training Day had been Training Week. Once the movie is over, one is left with the unsettling impression that the story might have made sense, but one is not entirely sure. Moreover, after provoking thought about the compromises that are perhaps necessary to catch the most nefarious criminals, Ayer declines to challenge the audience further. He over-clarifies his position with the excessive finale.
Director Antoine Fuqua keeps the story moving quickly enough to gloss over most of its weaknesses. The pace creates enough suspense to make Training Day as much an action thriller as it is a drama. Fuqua, who mimicked John Woo in The Replacement Killers and later forayed into the tired action/comedy genre with Bait, finds his own stylish, gritty voice in Training Day without doing anything to draw attention from his two stars. That's important, because at this point in his career, Washington is the primary draw to any movie he graces. In fact, in his two most recent films, the feel-good sports drama Remember the Titans and the spoon-fed bio-drama The Hurricane, he was close to the only draw. Though Training Day is a stronger movie overall than either of Washington's previous films, Washington is, once again, the reason to buy a ticket.
© October 2001 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2001 Warner Bros.
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