Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington star in this violent yet intelligent cop thriller. Hawke is a rookie on his first day in the narcotics squad of the LAPD; Washington is the cop doing the training. And he doesn’t like to go by the book; in fact within Hawke’s first hour on the job he is both drunk and stoned out of his mind on PCP at his superior’s insistence. Not wanting to appear scared and with dreams of making detective someday, Hawke is game for just about anything, managing a feeble protest here or there but basically going along for the ride. Until things go too far…
This is one of those movies that continues to build in intensity right up to the big finish. It shows the corruption within the system but doesn’t make it appear as if all cops are this way. However as an indictment against the system it is only partially successful. The superhero ending takes away from the level of realism. The audience realizes suddenly that they are in Hollywood Land and not the real world after all. As entertainment they probably made the right choice however because the action is riveting.
Both of the leads are very good but Denzel is a particular standout as the heavy. A role which he has seldom, if ever, played before. Here he is smug, charming and absolutely cock-sure as the street smart veteran. Was he ever as innocent and idealistic as the young rookie, as he claims, corrupted by the system around him or was he simply a bad apple all along? Either way his cop is ultimately a sympathetic character.
Final decision: as an action movie and character study Training Day passes the test.