leave a comment --Ken Fox
The first day on a new job is never easy, but how many fledgling hires are expected to smoke PCP-laced marijuana at gunpoint shortly after breakfast or have cocktails with a high-level drug dealer before lunch? Such is training day for LAPD rookie Jack Hoyt (Ethan Hawke), the closest thing to a hero in Antoine Fuqua's dark and extremely violent police thriller. Hoyt desperately wants to make detective and figures a quick way to the top is through the aggressive narcotics unit headed by Detective Sergeant Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington). Clad in head-to-toe black, with heavy gold chains and a tattoo that reads "Death is certain. Life is not," Harris is a seasoned veteran of South Central L.A.'s mean streets, where he's learned not only how to stay alive, but how to turn a profit as well. Harris sets about upping Hoyt's street I.Q. by forcing him to smoke the doctored weed they pilfer from a bust ("A good narcotics agent must know and love narcotics") and paying a visit to Roger (Scott Glenn), a dealer who seems more like Harris's drinking buddy than a serious felon ("It takes a wolf to catch a wolf"). But Harris has something a little more pressing on his mind: He recently spent a very expensive weekend in Vegas during which he sank himself deep into debt with the Russian mob, who'd now like to have a word with him. As the day progresses, Hoyt's bright-eyed eagerness turns first to dismay, then terror, as his big career break turns into his biggest nightmare. This is an uncharacteristically brutal performance from Washington, who, after a string of upright but less interesting roles, is quite consciously playing against type and appears to be relishing every moment. He's never seemed so menacing, nor has the City of Angels: Fuqua presents his hometown as a simmering cauldron of crime, though seeing such larger-than-life pop stars as Macy Gray and Snoop Dogg in bit parts undercuts the otherwise carefully constructed realism. The film is at its best when it explores the moral ambiguities of Harris's approach to law enforcement — when the usual rules no longer apply, at what point do the ends cease to justify the means? — and plays into real-life concerns about elite, trigger-happy street crime units who seem to operate above the law. Even after it becomes clearer which side of the law Harris is operating on, the film continues to work as a taut — if violent — police thriller.