Training Day: 5 reasons why it endures as a streetwise Denzel Washington classic

 Denzel Washington's blazing, Oscar-winning performance in Training Day remains one of his greatest achievements. This August, you can experience Washington's mesmerising turn as the corrupt, charismatic Detective Alonzo Harris all over again when the movie returns to Cineworld screens.

Training Day looks and sounds better than ever in its gleaming new 4K restoration, and don't forget that it's being re-released ahead of Washington's leading role in September's The Equalizer 3.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua and scripted by David Ayer, Training Day endures as a savvy, gritty slice of hardboiled contemporary cinema. Here are the reasons why.


1. Washington's performance is unique in the annals of his career

Washington has always revelled in character complexity in both the factual and fictional realms. From the rebellious Civil War soldier Trip in Glory (for which he won his first Oscar) to his layered and mercurial title role in Spike Lee's Malcolm X, Washington's ability to get beneath the skin of a certain individual has never been in doubt.

That said, Alonzo Harris uncorks a realm of splenetic venom and menace that, at the time of Training Day's initial release, was startling to behold. Here is a Washington character who knows he's bad and gleefully revels in the power that his position bestows upon him.

But since this is Washington, it's not all about the raving speeches. Instead, it's the subtle moments that linger, the acute sense of a man who was once an innocent rookie cop whose regular ventures into the realm of vigilante justice have sculpted him into a monster.

The climactic, explosive monologue, with its memorable, improvised reference to King Kong, may be remembered for the sheer volume emanating from an actor who regularly plays it calm and cool. But it's memorable for its human qualities, pivoting from denial to rage and ultimately to despair and fear.

In Washington's hands, Alonzo is no scene-chewing caricature but a fallible individual whose so-called glory days are about to catch up with him. The performance dramatically anchors the movie, amplifies its undercurrents and deservedly won Washington his second Oscar.

In the years since Washington has worked wonders with his portrayal of gangster Frank Lucas in Ridley Scott's American Gangster, but even that character didn't memorably plumb the depths in the manner of Alonzo Harris.

2. Ethan Hawke is the all-important counter-balance to Washington

When accepting his Oscar for The Fighter, Christian Bale complimented his co-star Mark Wahlberg. Bale reasoned that his grandiose turn only worked because Wahlberg offered the relatively more calm and collected antidote, sparing the audience from an endless onslaught of scene-chewing.

The same could be said of Training Day. While it's highly entertaining watching Denzel Washington atypically playing a murderous and diabolical sociopath, the movie would feel lopsided without Ethan Hawke's performance. In his role as the unsuspecting Jake Hoyt, the cop who is nominally drawn into his inaugural 'training day' on the streets, Hawke is our audience surrogate.

Hawke brilliantly mediates the horror and terror we feel as the full extent of Alonzo's crimes, and the reach of his corruption becomes even more apparent. The role offers a degree of human insight and nuance that the movie might otherwise lack, and it yielded an Oscar nomination for Hawke in the process.

3. Antoine Fuqua and David Ayer bring a sense of verisimilitude 

Director Antoine Fuqua's lensing has a clear sense of the Los Angeles streets in all their multifaceted glory (further elevated by an excellent soundtrack including an opening 'Forget About Dre' salvo that works wonders in establishing Alonzo's raw philosophy). From the side streets to the coffee shops and the interiors of the homes of drug dealers, Fuqua creates a potent sense of danger lurking around every corner.

Fuqua makes a strong partnership with David Ayer who revels in the complex moral dynamic between Alonzo and Jake. "I walk a higher path son," Alonzo intones when Jake doubts that his so-called training day isn't going as he imagined. The movie smoothly assimilates strong dialogue and violent set-pieces while avoiding a stop-start momentum.

Instead, everything flows, with the verbal conflicts often as hard-hitting and impactful as the drug busts and shoot-outs that Alonzo has made his signature. In the wake of this movie, Fuqua has enjoyed multiple collaborations with Washington on the likes of the Equalizer movies. Ayer, for his part, translated his street smarts into the likes of the POV cop movie End of Watch, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena.

4. There's an excellent supporting cast

Training Day's ensemble is arrestingly eclectic, mixing trendsetting musicians with an assortment of talented character actors. Scott Glenn (Silence of the Lambs) plays a criminal who finds himself on the wrong end of Alonzo's brand of justice. Tom Berenger (Platoon) plays a high-ranking official with the rare ability to intimidate the relentless Alonzo.

Cliff Curtis (Avatar: The Way of Water) plays a menacing gangster against whom Jake finds himself pitted in one of the movie's most suspenseful sequences, as the rookie finds himself hung out to dry by nefarious veteran Alonzo. And Eva Mendes (The Other Guys) brings a sense of grace to the role of Alonzo's neglected partner, her character serving to reveal a whole new dimension to Washington's relentless detective.

Even the aforementioned Snoop Dog and Dr Dre, along with Macy Gray, make appearances, helping to flesh out the movie's underworld setting where police justice has gone off the deep end. Also, watch out for Terry Crews during the final confrontation – it was only Crews' second movie (and uncredited at that) but it helped set his acting career in motion.

5. It's an immensely quotable movie

"King Kong ain't got s**t on me" may be the movie's most famous line (and, as mentioned, it was improvised by Washington). But there are plenty of memorable exchanges in the midst of Training Day's percolating, suspenseful atmosphere.

"This s***'s chess, it ain't checkers," Alonzo opines to Jake about the difficulties of reeling in high-level criminals. Later on, Alonzo reasons, "To protect the sheep, you gotta catch the wolf, and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf."

These succinct gems not only have an entertaining zing to them. They also embody the chilling philosophy of a character who must reckon with his own destruction come the end of the movie. 

Make like King Kong and click the link below to secure your tickets for Training Day. The movie is re-released on August 29th.



Need more Denzel Washington in your life? You can now book your tickets for The Equalizer 3, which hits screens at Cineworld on August 30th.