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Training Day (Antoine Fuqua) 2001

Training Day is a perfect example of an overly noble desire to include social commentary ruining what could have been a solid film. Didn’t Sturges make Sullivan’s Travels specifically so this sort of thing needn’t happen? The film features Denzel Washington as a narcotics detective showing rookie Ethan Hawke how the street works. The film’s strongest visual theme is its use of color filters, and the entire film feels as it has been filtered… through the Hollywood cliché machine. Usually, this isn’t a problem in a cop drama, but the film pretends it is giving an accurate depiction of street life. There are plenty of small details that feel legit, but the overall framework they are placed in feels phony as hell. For example, the dialogue is peppered with a lot of authentic slang, but it is placed in Tarrantino-esque speeches. This worked in Tarrantino’s films, since there were no pretensions of reality, but here it’s the sort of thing that keeps any semblance of reality from forming. The acting helps little. Washington seems to have confused how well he can act with how much he can act, and ends up turning in a mediocre performance. His character asks the rookie cop repeatedly throughout the film whether he is a “wolf or a lamb,” but Hawke remains a Hawke. Perhaps it’s because I prefer the brooding Ethan Hawke (Hamlet, Snow Falling on Cedars) to the extroverted one (Before Sunrise, this film) that he fails to register with me.

About halfway through the film, things get a bit better. The social commentary focus shifts as more of a generic plot develops. There are innumerable unfathomable occurrences, but it matters less when the film isn’t preaching. A few action scenes ensue, and the film seems to think it has turned into a morality play. Of course, with this level of writing, the moral choices are pretty damn near black and white (do I take the money or do I get shot in the head?, do I turn in the bad guy or do I become him?). Perhaps the biggest annoyance is the film’s fundamental premise. The screenwriter’s desire to compresses the discovery and fight against corruption into one day’s time feels hugely contrived. Still, the second half’s action scenes and comic book morality are better than the first’s preachiness. When the characters start taking obscene amounts of physical abuse and coming back for more, it manages to help you take the film’s events less seriously… something that would have helped from the start.


September, 2001

Jeremy Heilman