Jake Hoyt is a beat cop with detective status in his sights. Alonzo Harris is the undercover narcotics officer who can get him there. Alonzo has hand-picked Jake for his potential as a leader on an undercover team. "Eighteen months on my squad and I’ll give you a career," he pledges. But the stakes are high. The rookie gets one day on the streets with Alonzo to prove that he can handle the job. Wake up Jake, it’s training day.
Lesson number one: Narcs don’t do roll call. They don’t have desks. They have souped up, lifted, leather-upholstered Monte Carlos for offices. They talk hard, they live hard and they don’t take nothin’ from nobody. Lesson number two: Narcs don’t have to play by the rules. In fact, they can’t. Alonzo commands Jake, "Unlearn that bulls--- they teach you at the academy. Don’t bring that s--- in here. That s--- will get you killed." In Alonzo’s dirty, backstabbing world, the ends always justify the means. Small-time dealers and thugs? They’re just sheep being preyed upon by the bigger criminals. The only way to win the game is to go after the big guns. By any means necessary. Or in the senior cop’s words, "to protect the sheep, you’ve gotta catch the wolf. And it takes a wolf to kill a wolf."
Not-so-coincidentally, Jake’s training day comes just days after Alonzo got angry and killed the wrong guy (who happened to be a Russian of some status). Now there’s a price on Alonzo’s head. To get the money for the payoff, he decides to "cash in on an old account," and finally bust Roger, a dealer he’s been stroking as an informant for years. The door flies open. The cops storm the house. Alonzo recovers the $4 million he knows Roger has been hiding. The "good guys" pocket a million. Roger dies. Alonzo shoots his teammate in his bulletproof vest to provide "just cause" for homicide in the line of duty. As a "virgin shooter," Jake is the perfect person to peg as the trigger man in Roger’s death. ("You’ll get a medal of honor for this.") And four veteran officers will vouch for Alonzo’s story. ("It’s not about what you know. It’s about what you can prove.") Business as usual on the narcotics beat.
Jake’s not sure he can operate like that. But now it’s a life or death situation. If he squeals, he’s a dead man. If he plays along, he betrays his own standards of justice. Is Jake naïve? Or is Alonzo’s cutthroat police methodology as warped as Jake thinks it is? One thing’s for sure. Plenty of blood gets spilled before there’s only one cop standing.
positive content: Jake loves and values his wife and daughter very much. So much that he refuses to do dishonest things, like embezzle money, even to benefit his family.
Training Day’s ultimate message is a powerful one: you may live as if the ends justify the means, but in the end, justice prevails. More than once, honesty and strong ethics save Jake’s life.
spiritual content: Jake refuses to take a hit of marijuana when Alonzo first offers it, so Alonzo asks, "What, you a Jesus freak or a Mormon or something?"
sexual content: When Alonzo and Jake first meet, Alonzo makes a string of sexual wisecracks (including one homosexual reference) about Jake’s former senior officer being a woman. Alonzo introduces Jake to his wife and son, then leaves Jake and the boy in the living room while he and his wife go to the bedroom to have sex—while he’s on the clock. Most embarrassing and gratuitous is a scene in which Jake finally confronts Alonzo. It’s in the senior officer’s bedroom and Alonzo is clothed, but his wife is completely naked. A full-frontal nudity shot of her is slightly out of focus, but not otherwise obscured.
violent content: Training Day is a film full of harsh violence. Someone is constantly being held at gunpoint, and it’s not just for effect. These guys are serious about killing each other if their needs so dictate. There’s gunplay between cops and thugs. A car’s window gets shot out. Cars crash; people fly through plate glass windows. Alonzo shoots Roger at point-blank range with a shotgun. The audience sees the six distinct bullet holes in his chest and then watches him die. During several tense scenes, cops hold drug dealers at gunpoint. There are half a dozen brutal fist fights and tons of bloody eyes, noses and mouths. Alonzo forcibly gags a dealer with a ball point pen to make him regurgitate six rocks of crack that he’s swallowed. A group of thugs beats Jake, shoves him in a bathtub, turns the water on his head and comes close to blowing him away with a shotgun to the temple. A man gets pumped full of automatic rifle bullets. The audience sees his body convulsing from the hits.
crude or profane language: Like its violence, this film’s language is vicious. A constant barrage of f- and s-words (about 120 and 95, respectively), as well as scores of other profanities and a handful of misuses of God and Jesus’ names. More than a dozen uses of crude sexual slang, including references to gang rape and homosexual rape.
drug and alcohol content: Since the movie’s about drug busts, it’s no surprise that drugs and alcohol flow freely. Marijuana, PCP, crack, you name it. However, the drugs are not just in the hands of dealers and users. Alonzo’s philosophy about narcotics officers is that a good one "should have narcotics in his blood." He justifies this by saying that if a Narc refuses drugs on the street, he blows his cover and could possibly lose his life. He makes Jake take a huge toke of marijuana laced with PCP. Then he pumps Jake full of alcohol to counteract the drug high. In addition, he drinks with his colleagues and has open containers of alcohol in his car, often drinking while driving. During several tense scenes, Alonzo lights up a cigarette as if to prove how calm, cool and collected he is.
other negative elements: Alonzo lives large, and it’s not just because he gets a big paycheck. He embezzles goods from crime scenes and justifies the theft by giving some of it to the families of his informants. He also regularly bribes suppliers within the police system for warrants, etc.
conclusion: Without question, stunning performances from both Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington make Training Day a compelling film. Perennial hero Washington is nearly as good at being bad as he is at being good. And Hawke’s timid-yet-persistent uprightness keeps audiences wondering for the whole two hours whether he’ll sell out. [Spoiler Warning] The very good news is, he doesn’t. Not only that, but even as he’s driving the last nail in Alonzo’s coffin, he still doesn’t stoop to using the corrupt methods of his friend-turned-nemesis.
I’d like to, but I can’t even say that it’s a case of too little, too late. The ending works. The lessons are very clear that ethics are objective and justice always prevails. There can be little question about what audiences are supposed to take away from this film. Unfortunately, en route to that conclusion, viewers are slammed with so much violence and profanity that moviegoers psyches are left bleeding in the theater aisles. Training Day should practice what it preaches and remember that the end truly doesn't justify the means.