I watched Training Day. Here are 5 thoughts about it.
- This is exactly the kind of mid-budget, R-rated, actor-led high-concept action-drama which people like to bemoan don’t exist nowadays (idealistic rookie cop pairs with hardened career narc for his first day on the job; rookie realises that hardened cop might in fact be one of the bad guys). It is perfectly fine, and sometimes very good. It may also, in its way, be one of the last of its kind. It certainly exists as a certain kind of early 00s artifact, enough time having passed that this film has passed from current into period piece. The print currently rented out to Netflix (where I watched this) has that sort of buffed grain that is a hallmark of Warner Brothers films from this era (see also: Ocean’s Eleven, although that was shot with the Panavision Panaflex XL, whereas Training Day was shot with a Moviecam Camera- I think a large part of the image is down to image degradation over the years).
- Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington are two excellent examples of actors who have straddled critical and commercial acclaim with relative parity. Though Denzel is undeniably more of a star, both are dab-hands at picking those films which garner attention from both sides of the aisle (Hawke: The Purge, Assault on Precinct 13, Before Sunrise; Denzel: American Gangster, Man on Fire, Philadelphia). Both are actors who have slummed it, and yet never give the impression of slumming it. It is a testament to both of their talents in this field that although theirs is a pairing that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, their pairing acts as a draw to this film.
- This is, I think, a film about community, and the power of community. The film begins with lectures by Alonzo (Denzel) to Hoyt (Hawke) about the work of a good narc being ‘who you know’, and for the first half of the film Hoyt is simply witness to a number of conversations Alonzo has with criminals, law officials, and people in various ‘shady’ neighbourhoods. As the film progresses, the connections that Hoyt has made come in handy; his saving of a young girl from being raped in an alley ends up saving his life later on, and the connection he made with Alonzo’s young illegitimate child allows him to enter the flat and confront Alonzo in the climax. Indeed, the climactic scene of the film sees the neighbourhood Alonzo show-offily takes Hoyt to reject Alonzo and accept Hoyt as their own, as if charisma and pure intent can dethrone powerful connections in the course of a day. It is also apropos that Alonzo is eventually killed by faceless Russians, not knowing who fired the final bullet.
- It is interesting how many cues modern TV has taken form Fuqua’s style in this. Shows like Breaking Bad, The Wire, The Sopranos (aka The Big Boys of Prestige TV) all employ that gritty, cinematic, street-level view which has passed from being interesting and original (this film does, despite my wariness, mark Fuqua’s as a distinct cinematic voice) into almost being a signifier of a genre unto itself. Just look at the scene where Hoyt is suspended in a bathtub with a shotgun pressed into his face; there is a long road between Scarface, on the one hand, and the Crawl Space episode of Breaking Bad, in the other (bodies subjugated by external pressures while the body remains the focus), and Mauro Fiore’s cinematography is some tarmac on that road. (side note; Raymond Cruz, who plays the unforgettable Tuco in Breaking Bad, also features in the above bathtub scene).
- Some films seem to surreptitiously leak into the popular consciousness, and this is one of them. On the one hand, it is perhaps a triumph of film’s ability to portray issues of race in engaging narrative contexts that this film continues to be known by audiences of all colours. On the other hand, it’s probably a damning indict of how many mediocre films are made that the ones which rise above mediocrity, however briefly (and Training Day is a pretty good film) continue to float to the top ten, twenty, thirty years later.