Reviewed by: Carole McDonnell
|Featuring||Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Tom Berenger, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg|
|Producer||Jeffrey Silver, Bobby Newmyer, Robert Newmyer, Robert F. Newmyer|
|Distributor||Warner Brothers Pictures|
“The only thing more dangerous than the line being crossed, is the cop who will cross it.”
Here are a few questions for you… Do you believe that sometimes we must fight fire with fire? Is the world made up only of sheep and wolves? What happens to an idealist who gives up on his ideals?
In “Training Day”, Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) is a rookie who wants to make detective. In order to become a detective, he has to do a tour of duty as a narcotic cop in the evil streets of Los Angeles. His trainer for the day is king of the streets cop, Alonzo, played by Denzel Washington. Alonzo divides the world into the sheep and the wolves. In fact, along with graphic racial and sexual street-talk, Alonzo uses a lot of metaphorical Christian language. For instance, he calls the streets of Los Angeles, “The World.” Alonzo is nothing if not a wolf. With tears in his eyes, he recalls his days—or was it a week—as an idealist rookie cop. He was once a sheep… but no longer. In “Training Day”, there is no metaphor for a strong sheep.
“Training Day” is like a nightmare road picture. In this case, one is trapped in a car with a mentor who has lost his bearings. Oh, every once in a while, we see—or think we see—something that looks like the old idealist Alonzo of days gone by. He brings food and other items for the relatives of prison inmates, for instance. But is this heart-felt or the kind of manipulative goodness that oozes out of bad people? And how is Hoyt going to get out of this car alive with his integrity? it’s clearly a case of either/or. Integrity and life don’t go well together… especially if one has no one on one’s team.
The world is male, violent, ethnic and debauched. Feminism, by the way, hasn’t reached this world. The women, seductive, maternal or virginal, are mostly all sheep. The men are buffed and wolfish. (Perhaps that’s all prison is good for, helping these guys keep in shape.) it’s a feral world out there. Yet, for all the cursing and violence, this is a religious movie because it is essentially about temptation. Every once in a while something spiritual comes through. Witness the shower curtain with the picture of Jesus on it. Alonzo has spent his time leaning on his own understanding and is therefore always giving sermons about the ways of the World. The movie tells us how hard it is to keep one’s integrity. Perhaps it tells us that discernment is a hard-won spiritual gift. Sometimes the gift of discernment is earned only when one has been nearly fooled. And Hoyt is fooled and manipulated many times. Alonzo threatens, preaches, stirs to action… all in the name of Justice. Each time, Hoyt gets deeper and deeper into Alonzo’s machinations, the more complex the “appearance of evil.” As Alonzo so often preaches, “it’s not what is true that matters, it’s what the evidence says.”
The funny thing about this movie is that it is so very hard to hate Alonzo. Either Denzel Washington’s intensity makes him the defacto hero of the film or we just identify with the villain more in this story. As in many male-bonding pictures where the bad mentor and the good idealistic newcomer must work together, the question is: “Who will change whom?” When was the last time we saw a bad guy actually become “saved” by his good partner? I can only remember two movies in which a bad guy was saved: “The Bad Lieutenant” and “A Prayer for the Dying.” Nowadays, bad guys no longer get saved anymore. They just get blown away. Even though we suspect he might end badly, we don’t want to see our failed hero get his come-uppance. We can see that he was good once. When he looks at Hoyt, we can see that he sees his old self. What we have to contend with is a bad example who is an embittered world-weary idealist. In addition, unlike other films of this kind, “White Heat” for instance, there is no “good” example for poor Hoyt to look up to. he’s out there in the World, all by himself. Idealism, like Christianity, sometimes stays perfect only because it has been untested. One wonders how things actually work in the real World. How many Christians, for instance, have fought fire with fire, and learned to be a lot like their more worldly counterparts in their own training day? In this film, the idealist gets tested but doesn’t entirely fall. The sheep manages to keep his integrity… with the help of a wolf or two.
I liked “Training Day”. It was almost like a worst case scenario for Christians. It reminded of Psalms 73 and 37. It showed us how good people can become bad when we lean unto our own understanding and are overwhelmed by the evils in the world. One definitely got the feeling during the entire film that Alonzo was a good cop gone bad. Most Christians, however, will be too turned off by the violence and the graphic language to see the heart of this movie.
Therefore, I do not recommend “Training Day” for those Christians. Nor do I recommended it to teenagers who might not realize how bad a character Alonzo really is. Unfortunately, bad guys are hipper and more imitated that most movie good guys. I wouldn’t be surprised if some children walk out of the theater imitating Alonzo’s attitude and language. Be forewarned.