Denzel Washington has been one of our great movie stars for so long that it can be hard to miss a second. For much of his early career he was known for playing largely moral characters in films such as A Soldier Story Cry Freedom and Glory in addition to being critically acclaimed for Shakespeare’s stage performances.
Even as he began to expand himself into more obscure roles such as that of a homophobic ambulance-chasing but eventually sympathetic lawyer in Philadelphia and the controversial ex-election father of He’s Got Game Denzel Washington decency.
Training Day stars Denzel Washington as Detective Alonzo Harris a Los Angeles Police Department narcotics detective who is hired to evaluate Officer Jake Hoyt Ethan Hawke in one of his periodic blockbuster roles for promotion.
The task has been assigned. The film is built almost entirely on a conversation between Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke with the latter radiating from the former serving as an officer of the law as an expression of some sort of cautious idealism and corruption.
During the day the two are almost never apart sharing most of the scenes in the film. And while the film could easily be described as Denzel Washington as a charismatic corrupt cop attempting to take down gullible crook Ethan Hawke it’s actually a surprisingly nuanced film.
For one thing Denzel Washington’s casting as Alonzo has been nothing short of a stroke of genius. Very few actors in cinematic history possess that kind of monumental charisma and the dial is set to the maximum for the entirety of the film.
Denzel Washington’s Alonzo is a deliberately larger-than-life character. She seems to be in complete control of any and all situations whether she has guns that are literally pointed at her or facing hostile mobs at the infamous LA Imperial Court housing project.
But the movie is clear that Daniel Washington is not some sort of Superman His personality as a cunning quick-witted street king is as much a calculative act as he sounds. By the end of the film it is clear that this is a man who has internalized and weaponized every survival technique he learned as a police detective no longer his true identity.
It’s also interesting that the training day doesn’t explain whether Denzel Washington is an outright corrupt cop or one who has made tough decisions in the face of relentless violence and crime at times or something in between.
While Ethan Hawke is restrained and ultimately empowered by the law-abiding Denzel Washington admits that to catch criminals he must use his own methods. Or is he a criminal who has learned that he can use the law to serve his own interests.