Rookie LAPD cop Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) is assigned to shadow renowned narcotics officer Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) as he does his rounds in the City of Angels. Hoping the experience will boost his career, Hoyt gets a rude awakening when he meets his new boss.
Aggressive, street smart, and willing to bend the rules until they snap, Harris is a formidable mentor who makes a point of pushing Hoyt to his limits. From goading the naïve family man into smoking PCP, to involving him in ethically unsound drug busts, Harris begins indoctrinating his apprentice into a world where right and wrong are engulfed in a grey area of his own making. Struggling to hold onto his principles in the face of Harris's crash course in corruption, Hoyt must become just as ferocious as his teacher in order to bring the dirty cop down.
Washington won an Oscar for his blistering portrayal of the fearsome Harris; his performance a magnetic blend of rough-hewn charisma and unnerving menace. While the actor's swaggering villain is the focal point of the film, director Antoine Fuqua creates a slow-burning furnace of tension, the seamier regions of Los Angeles forming the perfect backdrop to Hoyt's decent into policing hell.
Set over the course of one day, Fuqua's film plunges the viewer into the action, the short time frame adding to the sense of impending danger. While Hawke is greatly overshadowed by Washington, his everyman cop is pitched just right, becoming a vessel through which the audience experience Harris's skewed world, rather than a simply an underwritten cipher.
Mean, morally murky and riveting, Training Day is a superior cop thriller that grips like a vice.