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Training Day

Mere hours into his first day of training for a position in an elite anti-narcotics branch of the Los Angeles Police Department, Ethan Hawke's view of the streets begins to change. Specifically, he starts to see them through the hazy, clouded high of PCP-dusted marijuana, a drug forced on him at gunpoint by his potential new boss, veteran cop Denzel Washington. Is Washington giving Hawke a crash course in the realities of his new beat, or simply revealing himself as a bad lieutenant of the worst kind? For much of its run time, Training Day plays directly off this disturbing ambiguity, leading a tour of the thinly guarded border between cops and criminals. Whether roughing up a wheelchair-bound suspect (an eerie Snoop Dogg), boasting of his arrest record mere moments before pointing out an informant/dealer he allows to operate, or making ostensible progress on a case by charging into an apartment using a Chinese take-out menu as a warrant, Washington creates a striking portrait of the power needed to enforce the law while strongly suggesting the corruption that accompanies that power. Far removed from the innate goodness of Washington's recent roles, it's a remarkable performance, landing somewhere between Dirty Harry and Orson Welles' petty tyrant from Touch Of Evil. A penetrating screenplay by David Ayer helps make it possible. Ayer's previous efforts (The Fast And The Furious, U-571) never suggested Training Day's command of characters in moral twilight, and the similarly blossoming director Antoine Fuqua rises to the script's challenges. Given a showcase for acting and writing, Fuqua brings a relaxed, quietly stylish approach to much of Training Day. This newfound maturity—only hinted at by flashy action films like Fuqua's The Replacement Killers—indicates that he's begun to develop into a true talent. As goes the director, so goes his other leading man. Once more apt to deliver a collection of youth-in-rebellion gestures than a performance, Hawke has been developing into a far more interesting actor since The Newton Boys and, especially, Hamlet. His ability to hold his own against Washington says all that needs saying. Only the ambiguity-dissolving final act, inevitable as it might be, is a letdown: It resolves too much too quickly, in a fashion that doesn't quite ring true. Still, to Training Day's credit, the troubling issues raised earlier remain open and unresolved, clouded in a haze that shows no sign of lifting soon.

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