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Training Day

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2001 1 Jan
Training Day
from Film Forum, 10/18/01

While Hollywood's evils lurked on Mulholland Drive, bad cops were the center of attention in the box office champ Training Day. Ethan Hawke plays a rookie taken under the wing of Alonzo (Denzel Washington), a narcotics officer with questionable and violent methods of "street justice." Does the end justify Alonzo's wicked means?

Critics in the religious media were divided over the film. Some pointed out the film's strong moral compass, but others didn't like seeing the immoral means. Preview's Paul Bicking writes, "Along with sometimes extremely graphic violence, vulgarities and obscenities dominate the dialogue and rap soundtrack. This Training Day is one to miss."

Carole McDonnell of Christian Spotlight on the Movies disagreed: "I liked Training Day. It showed us how good people can become bad when we lean on our own understanding and are overwhelmed by the evils in the world." She does add a warning for parents: "I wouldn't be surprised if some children walk out of the theater imitating Alonzo's attitude and language."

Movie Parables' Michael Elliott praises "a searing performance by Denzel Washington, who makes us all but forget his familiar nice guy image." But he adds, "The story that unfolds is not quite as substantial. Relying on clichés and coincidences to drive the tale forward, it is the performances that keep us involved in the movie rather than the movie itself."

Movieguide's response is to praise Washington for being "charismatic, ruthless, funny, infuriating, angry, cocky, caring, professional, smart, sassy, and cunning. He may deserve an Oscar for this performance." This critic calls the film "a blistering, thoroughly captivating work of cinema." Yet, "despite an ultimately moral worldview, Training Day contains an excessive amount of strong foul language and strong violence. It also has some moral ambiguity that isn't resolved in an uplifting, satisfactory manner."

Mainstream critics lined up to praise Denzel Washington's transitional performance.

Village Voice's Amy Taubin calls it a "propulsive, elegantly written police thriller," and says that Washington's "movie-star charisma rules from beginning to end. You have to admire the risk he takes in turning his star image upside down; nevertheless, it's creepy to think that the hero you believed in for so many movies may be just as much a fiction as the villain."

That's not enough, though, for Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman: "There's no denying that Washington can play a villain … but I fervently wish he were doing it in a movie that paid more than lip service to the real world." He adds, "You'd think that Hispanics in this country might have grown a little tired of seeing Hollywood reduce them to tattooed beer swillers in tank tops calling each other 'homes.' About the only thing tawdrier than the violence … is the series of jaw-dropping plot coincidences. The audience, drawn by the chance to see Denzel Washington in a new (dark) light, may have given up on a movie that is hardly worthy of his efforts."