There are quite a few movies that you and your friends plan on watching well ahead of time, usually these works are reserved for the real classics of cinema, whether they be a solid Hitchcock film or Woody Allen, or one tends to lean in the direction of a cult classic film, often pulling some Tarantino off the shelf, or popping in a solid horror genre classic. However, there is such a time when you and your friends engage in a night of pretty solid partying and the next day results in you all moving sluggishly around whatever abode you all have crashed in and agree to do nothing more than watch a few movies and order in deliciously unhealthy Chinese food. The movies which tend to emerge in these situations are quite often some of the best revelations one can encounter in cinema, famous cases from my past including such greats as In Bruges and The Wrestler. I was fortunate enough to have one of these days today when being talked into watching Training Day, a film with which I was initially hesitant to pop in and pushed hard in the direction of a comedy. Much to my surprise, being outvoted into watching Training Day proved quite fruitful and I was able to consume a generally brilliant work and do so with little to no distraction, which is quite necessary when dealing with such a subtly complex piece of film. Director Antoine Fuqua makes something profound with the cop thriller that incorporates some beautiful moments of experimental filmmaking along with an onslaught of intensely filmed and edited action sequences to produce a movie both visceral and contemplative, never once provided viewers with a moment to rest and assess the situation. Dealing with the very tumultuous world of narcotics, Training Day packs a veritable punch of madness and ethical reappropriation in a way that helps me to understand precisely why it has come to gain such a significant reputation. Considering all this, if you still find yourself uncertain as to why this work is so well received and remembered please refer to the performance by Denzel Washington, it is pretty damn close to perfection.
As the title suggests, Training Day is condensed within a singular days events, all focusing on policeman Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) who is undertaking his first day as a narcotics officer in Los Angeles. Hoyt's trainer is the hot-headed and somewhat unethical detective Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) who sees it fit to train Hoyt in the ways of the streets by a variety of hands on experience. It is also quite clear that Harris has no qualms regarding the means by which he obtains confessions or information to drug cases, using duplicitous words and physical means to draw a confession out of an individual and within his undercover car seems intent on taking drugs and consuming alcohol as a means to get into the role of a narcotics officer. Even when Hoyt goes out of his way to save a girl from being raped, Harris chastises him claiming that within the narcotics division he cannot be the gun wielding, live saving cop style he preferred before. However, as the day continues and Harris becomes more involved in problematic actions, particularly those involving planting of evidence and the buying off of search warrants, Hoyt begins to rebel against the seemingly omniscient Harris whose ties to corruption go as high as district attorneys. It is when Hoyt finally confronts Harris about his misuse of power and corruption during an unjust raid that things become intense, in a gun heavy standoff Harris eventually claims that it is a greater form of justice to attack high level drug pushers through non-legal actions than traditional forms of justice and that the law has little sway over people with such levels of power. Seeming as though he has finally made some sort of agree to disagree relationship with Harris, Hoyt agrees to go with him to a gang house, where Harris quickly ditches him to die at the hands of gangsters. Yet upon his being beaten it is discovered that the girl he saved earlier was one of the gangsters nieces leading to his immediate forgiveness to which Hoyt takes up hunting down and exacting violent revenge on Harris, ultimately, ending with his being gunned down by Russian mobsters to whom he owed money, while Hoyt returns home from what will, undoubtedly, prove to be his most troublesome day on the force.
Justice is a frail subject, one that is often malleable but always at the risk of being completely shattered by a multitude of problematizing examples. I am fairly certain that notions of this have emerged on my blog before, especially in the handful of films I have reviewed previously which center to some degree on law enforcement, however, notices of justice and ethics are particularly interesting within Training Day because we as viewers are asked to consider what degree of comfort and trust we place in law officials to do their jobs, especially when their jobs require dealing with high level criminals as multiple near death dangers in a single day. Harris is not necessarily a bad individual, all be it, he does appear to engage in heavy drug and alcohol use and an extramarital affair. He admits openly that part of being a successful undercover agent is to look and act the part of an individual in the narcotics world, which means being willing to be familiar with the drugs being peddled on the streets to the youth specifically. It would be a pressing issue if one were to discover the level of tax dollars being directed at such methods of crime prevention, especially since on a quick cursory glance one would assume that law enforcement was using community money to fund their own drug use. Furthermore, the film is quite aware of what problems arise when a police officer attempts to use violence or threats as a means of coercing a suspect into confession or provide information. Both Hoyt and Harris are careful with how they extract information from individuals who are fully aware of their rights and protections under the law, this is seen rather effectively when they approach a wheelchair bound crack dealer. However, there are moments of clear transcendence regarding justice as it relates to human identity regardless of a cop or criminal mentality. The act of attempted rape is deemed bad by every individual involved and at one point provides for a moment of unity at its being prevented, of course another issue arises when considering the notion of male protection and what role the trauma of female experience plays into this, but that is another post and discussion all its own, perhaps more inclined for whenever I get around to watching I Spit On Your Grave.
Key Scene: The moment when Hoyt begins having hallucinatory experiences as a result of inhaling PCP, is done with a certain experimental poise that makes for an interesting moment of slow pace and serenity in an otherwise heavy and fast paced film.
This movie is a surprise and intensely watchable, the bluray is considerably cheap and well worth the investment.