Thursday, 28 June 2012

“Training Day”. A Review Of The 2001 Film Now Reissued Onto BLU RAY.


"...In Order To Catch A Wolf...You Have To Think Like A Wolf..."

I remember seeing "Training Day" at the cinema in 2001 - the audience applauded at the end - and most left their seats with its gritty brilliance seared into their unconscious. I'm pleased to say that revisiting this urban drug story in 2012 finds that Antoine Fuqua's directorial debut hasn't lost one jot of its power - and better still – is now genuinely enhanced by its reissue on BLU RAY.

The picture quality is far better than I expected - a really crisp transfer. Its default aspect is 2.4:1 - so there are bars top and bottom of the screen - but even stretched to full frame - the print quality still holds up. A lot of the scenes are one-on-one dialogue pieces in the front of cars between the two male leads - but expertly filmed and edited - there's no real blocking. Side shots of their faces are startlingly clear - even the sequences towards the end in people's homes and out on the streets at night are very, very clean. It's a top-notch transfer...

Written by DAVID AYER (a white man who grew up in the South Central projects of Los Angeles) and directed by ANTOINE FUQUA (a black man who did the same)- it's about a fresh-faced cop Jake Hoyt (played by Ethan Hawke) who is hooked up with legendary narcotics Detective Alonzo Harris (played by Denzel Washington) for one 'training day'. From dawn to dusk - it will be a baptism of fire.

And while the young rookie Hoyt seems to cut the mustard in the eagerness department, unfortunately he's also highly principled - and Alonzo feels that this Academy naivety will get him killed in the real world (dialogue above). So Hoyt struggles. At first Alonzo has the air of a man doing what he has to do to keep the river of drugs off the streets of Los Angeles. His methods may be brutal but the end justifies the means - doesn't it? Then things get gradually murkier...and even life-threatening...

Soon after a car bust - Jake is drawn into Alonzo's doped-up world and begins to feel like he's being played - but Alonzo keeps proffering believable reasons for his actions. Only a brave intervention (a young Latino girl being attacked by two lowlifes in a lane) saves Jake from the clutches of a double-barrelled bathroom death. Soon (bruised and battered) Jake is taking the game to Alonzo's neighbourhood - and on it goes to a brilliant but inevitably bloody ending...

Part of the reason why "Training Day" works is that there's an air of authenticity in the script that echoes The Wire and The Sopranos (both Author and Director have been there). The bad language and street talk is either vicious or impenetrable - and frequently both. A dance of fear and intimidation co-exists between the cops and the largely Black and Latino communities. 
No one is clean and few get away from it unaffected. Some areas of the city are even no-go zones - poverty and bad housing being a breeding ground. Gun law abounds and it's hard to tell the difference between Dictators - the drug-pusher or the police officer who protects the drug-pusher...

Denzel is truly magnificent in the part (a departure from his nice-guy roles) - he inhabits his gold-chained Alonzo with a power and ferocity that few actors could even get near. You feel this mouthy monster owning the areas he walks into and you understand why many of them smile as Alonzo approaches - but would gladly put several bullets in his back as he leaves. 
Ethan Hawke does well to keep up with such a tour-de-force - and at times - even matches him. 
It's not surprising that Washington took his 2nd Oscar for it ("Philadelphia" was his first).

The supporting cast too is exceptional - Snoopy Dogg and Dr. Dre as drug-dealing hoodies - Macy Gray as a crack wife - Eve Mendes as Alonzo's squeeze - Scott Glen as an old veteran - and the trio of corrupt officials - Tom Berenger, Raymond J. Barry and Harris Yulin (who feature in the 'Alternate Ending' in the Extras). And special mention should also go to the locals and the then unknown Latino cast - some of who are actually gang members. Fantastic stuff...and so impressive...

To sum up - a great film then - now made better by a format that allows it to shine.
This is precisely what a good BLU RAY reissue should be.

Recommended like a hard rock in the crack den at the back of 10 Downing Street...(yo David).

BLU RAY Specifications:
VIDEO: 1080p High Definition 2.4:1 Aspect Ratio
AUDIO: Dolby Digital English 5.1, French 5.1 and German 5.1
SUBTITLES: English, French and German
1. Feature-Length Commentary by Director Antoine Fuqua (Director)
2. Additional Scenes
3. Alternate Ending
4. HBO First Look: The Making Of Training Day
5. 2 Music Videos - "No.1" by NELLY and "Got You" by PHAROAHE MONCH
6. Theatrical Trailer

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