Corruption and crime go hand in hand, and yet it is no surprise that the just and heroic officers who are meant to protect are the men and women pulling the strings of wrongdoing. Training Day adapts that premise well, and with variety. Are these not-so-buddy cops doing the right thing? This line is blurred almost immediately, and it is hard to untangle the fear and isolation of communities found within this Antoine Fuqua piece. He applies the strains of police work to the gritty streets that, should they be cleaned up, will provide a rather noble goal for one, but a loss of cash and respect for the other. It is an odd balance, but a necessary one that lingers throughout the relationship between both of these undercover agents.
Wishing for balance between its two leading men, Training Day is focused on bringing the two together through their differences. Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) is the newly hired, scrubbed-up, undercover agent looking to impress Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington), the hot-headed veteran with secrets to hide. Hawke and Washington have rhythmic chemistry. Their opening conversation at the coffee shop sets up these characters with such ease and excellence. Harris is a cold character but feigns interest, anger and emotional connection to Hoyt, a man looking to just fit in. He is the fall guy for many, someone that tries so hard to be a part of the system that he has little of himself left to offer. Capturing that is difficult, it relies on both of these performers to hold their own as undercover agents, but also to portray that slip into a world beyond their conception.
That difference between Hoyt’s family life and the streets he is adopted by are night and day. Such a difference is excellent, although we spend far more time with the latter than the former. Perhaps it is because the violent assaults and street chases Hawke finds himself a part of are far more interesting than tepid family dramas. That is set up with a few moments in the opening, and even then, Washington is the dominant force of the scene, despite only being heard. “Try not to get me killed,” says Harris to Hoyt. He is taking a risk, and despite knowing the area and the people, his line of work and rage-fuelled, care-free attitude is taking him down roads and streets he barely survives. He manages it through anxiety from those around him, and that is so well constructed by Washington and Hawke.
Blurring the line between the intrinsic nature of good-cop, bad-cop filmmaking, Training Day is a remarkable experience. There is, for a time at least, no way of knowing whose side we should be on. Commentating on street justice and what it entails for those that have such ethics dispensed on them, Fuqua displays an understanding that corruption is not just about power. It is about greed, merit, and respect. Harris is a representation of all of that blurred into one, and it is the reasoning for his actions that is lost under the layer of righteousness presented by Hoyt. Either way, they are both corrupt, regardless of whether one or the other is comfortable with the actions of corruption or justified police work.