Training Day (2001)

(In theaters, October 2001) Ironically enough, this film about the corruption of a young police officer is also gradually perverted by the stupid plot mechanics of Hollywood thrillers. Unfortunately, unlike the protagonist this film gets no redemption by the end. Oh, it starts promisingly enough: Our clean-cut hero (Ethan Hawke) is happy as a puppy to join the drug-enforcement unit of a renowned officer, but his first day on the job proves to be much harder than he expected. For one thing, officer Alonzo (magnificently played against type by Denzel Washington) isn’t one for protocol or slavish admiration. For another, well, he seems as violent and ruthless as the criminals he’s fighting. By the time he tricks our stalwart law-enforcement representative in smoking PCP-laced pot, we’re deep in issues of justice versus law and the means required to enforce whatever ends are sought. It’s fascinating stuff, filmed in dirty gritty style. “Are you a wolf or a sheep?” taunts bad-dude Washington as the audience is willing to follow him wherever he wants to go. Alas, the film teeters too long between the two choices, and the inevitable conclusion mishandles everything. The fate of the protagonist, for instance, depends on a jaw-dropping coincidence, the type of thing that must either be foreshadowed hours in advance or simply re-written past the first draft. Then we go on to an unbelievable pair of confrontations. Finally, bad-guy Russians swoop on the film like plot devices and neatly tie up a dangling ending, because audiences would rather see the sheep win. Terribly unsatisfying, but the film is still worth a look if only to see Denzel Washington give a textbook-worthy charismatic bad-guy performance.

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