Alonzo Harris (denzel washington) is brutal, cynical, corrupt and bad tempered. He is also funny and, when the mood is on him, strangely seductive. You know better than to cheer for him, but with Washington's hot-wired performance, it is impossible not to.
In Training Day, Alonzo's a rogue narc working the Los Angeles streets where he learned his mean lessons. On a single very violent day, covered at top speed with harsh intensity by director Antoine Fuqua, Alonzo has to murderously bust a drug dealer he has been stalking for a decade. At the same time, he's got to pay off some Russian mafiosi he has offended or end up dead himself. Oh, yeah, it's also his first day on the job with a new partner, an idealistic and ambitious square named Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke), who needs to be taught the ropes. Or put that another way: Alonzo wants to entangle the rookie in those ropes, make Jake complicit in his corruption.
The struggle for the kid's soul largely takes place in Alonzo's "office," a 1978 Monte Carlo lowrider, where he offers beer and pot and the promise of promotion, fame and ill-gotten gains-and threatens death and dishonor if Jake refuses to go along.
As long as Training Day stays tightly focused on the struggle between the two cops, the movie is first rate. Fuqua has a gift not just for quick movement but also for coherence. He lays out the geography of his sequences clearly and moves his people through them logically, qualities often missing in action films, which are so often sold out to explosive spectacle.
Where Training Day, as written by David Ayer, goes wrong is at the end, when the pair's conflict turns into open warfare and the bad cop is isolated and left to his grim fate. You don't quite believe that Alonzo's once supportive neighbors would suddenly turn their backs when his crimes are exposed. You mean to say they never knew? You mean to say they didn't take a certain satisfaction in the way he bent the system to his own advantage? This resort to conventional morality betrays the amoral logic of the movie. It is perhaps the price you pay for big-studio backing, but it takes some of the edge off an otherwise smart, nasty, potent movie.