, Ethan Hawke
Sound the sirens: A smart, involving movie aimed at grownups has finally arrived in theaters. Training Day
is a provocative police drama that confronts the fact that when it comes to ethics, the world of law enforcement can contain more shades of gray than black and white. What bumps the film up to the Don't Miss category, though, is a sensational lead performance by Washington as a charismatic narcotics cop who is completely corrupt.
Washington portrays Det. Sgt. Alonzo Harris, a 13-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department. With his intimate knowledge of the streets and willingness to do whatever it takes to keep them clean, Harris is a tremendously productive lawman, but his moral compass is woefully bent. The extent of his crookedness slowly becomes apparent to Jake Hoyt (Hawke), an idealistic young beat cop, when he spends a long, eventful day in Harris's company.
"We're the police," Harris tells his rookie sidekick. "We can do what the f--- we want." The veteran officer proceeds to force Hoyt, at gunpoint, to smoke a pipeful of confiscated marijuana ("To be truly effective, a good narcotics agent should know and love narcotics," Harris explains). He also pays a friendly social call on a major drug dealer (Scott Glenn), chugs beer while driving, stops for a sexual tryst with a girlfriend (though he's married) and by late afternoon plots a murder to steal a big score of cash. All the while, Harris keeps up a steady stream of self-justifying patter, much of it borderline persuasive. After shooting a pusher in cold blood, he tells a stunned Hoyt, "He sold drugs to kids. The world is a better place without him."
What makes Washington so impressive here is the seductive cockiness he brings to the role. His Harris can rationalize even his worst behavior: He's nailing the bad guys, so what's the difference how he does it? In the less showy role of appalled apprentice, Hawke holds his own. Director Antoine Fuqua (The Replacement Killers
) moves Training Day along at a fast clip without sacrificing character development, though the final scenes, featuring a chase and a high-caliber shootout, are extraneous and belong to a lesser, more predictable movie. (R)
Bottom Line: Seize the Day