The first shot is of the sun rising on this “training day.” We have the classical “unity of time” in this movie, everything taking place within one twenty-four hour period. The movement of the sun at the start of the film is like the curtain rising on a stage play. We see subsequent shots of the sun as it marks the movement of the story until it sets at the end of the tale. The fact that Jake must prove himself, and Alonzo must solve his problem in the same compressed span of hours escalates the plot’s tension. Jake is already awake when his alarm goes off at five in the morning. He is nervous because today he must demonstrate that he is worthy of joining Alonzo’s special narcotics undercover unit. His wife, after nursing their baby daughter, adds to the pressure when she tells him not to screw up this opportunity. Although wanting to be a good cop, Jake is selfishly interested in getting promoted and making more money. He is envious of the nice homes of his superiors. Later when Alonzo pushes him to state why he really wants to join his team, Jake reveals his ambition when he says, “I wanna make detective.”
Jake starts to feel very mentally altered, and Alonzo admits that he gave him pot laced with the much stronger PCP. Jake is alarmed because he thinks he will fail a urine test and will be fired. But, Alonzo assures him he’s safe, because their lieutenant always gives his team a week’s notice when a drug test will be performed. Here again we see how Alonzo operates outside of the law. He tells Jake he smoked the stuff of his own free will. He says nobody put a gun to Jake’s head, which is exactly what Alonzo did, as he makes a dark joke about how he has manipulated Jake.
Their next stop is at the home of Roger (Scott Glenn), who we know must have made a great deal of illegal money since he is talking about “retiring” soon and going to the Philippine Islands. He and Alonzo behave like they are old friends, and we learn for the first time from Roger that Alonzo has recently incurred the wrath of some Russian gangsters while he was in Las Vegas. (Alonzo seems to associate more with outlaws than policemen). Alonzo tells Roger he is working out his problem, which turns out to be a foreshadowing of how Alonzo will double-cross Roger. Roger tells a cryptic joke that he says will tell Jake everything he needs to know about life on the streets. Jake, in his altered state, says he already knows what it’s all about, “Smiles and cries,” which a surprised Roger agrees with. Jake says, “You gotta control your smiles and cries, because that’s all you have and nobody can take that away from you.” It’s as if Jake is saying that you can’t count on anything else, so living the hard life in the inner city, you can only rely on what moves you to laugh and cry. Alonzo scoffed at the line, but maybe Jake understands more about the people living in Alonzo’s community than what one would expect. Roger reinforces the idea that Alonzo was once like Jake, wanting to clean up the streets when he was a rookie.
As they drive, Jake sees two men trying to rape a young Latino girl. He tells Alonzo to stop the car, which the jaded cop does reluctantly. Jake takes on two tough guys who don’t seem to care that he is a policeman, yelling obscenities at him. Alonzo just watches, acting like a detached judge, assessing Jake’s performance. Jake overcomes the men, one with a choke hold, while sustaining a bit of a beating. Alonzo again doesn’t want to bother himself with arrests here. He threatens one of the men, beats him with the pistols he’s carrying, and takes their drugs and money. Alonzo just tells the girl to go home. Jake is angry because he wants do his job by taking her statement and getting the the two men off of the street. He also finds the girl’s wallet that she left behind. After hearing from the girl where she came from when she yells at her attackers, Alonzo says that the girl’s family will exact revenge. Jake says that is “street justice.” Alonzo, who no longer believes in the effectiveness of working within the legal system, has no problems with, as he puts it, “the garbage men taking out the garbage.” When an upset Jake says, “so just let the animals wipe themselves out, right?” Alonzo’s reply is, “God willing.” His invoking the deity here seems ironic given the barbarity of what he is advocating. Alonzo has accepted the idea that the ends justify the means, and basically says you have to use the enemy’s tactics to defeat him. So his motto is, “it takes a wolf to catch a wolf.” Alonzo points out that Jake using the choke hold was not playing by the rules, but he did it because “you did what you had to do.” For a moment Jake looks like he might join Alonzo’s pack. He howls like a wolf and drinks a beer, as does Alonzo while driving, which again, is illegal.
Alonzo wants information out of a man named Blue (Snoop Dogg), who is a paraplegic ex-con in a wheelchair. After Alonzo makes Jake run after Blue in a comic-sad chase sequence given Blue’s disability, Alonzo threatens Blue with breaking parole because he is carrying a gun. He also takes a pen off of Jake and, in a act of police brutality, sticks it down the paraplegic’s throat, making him vomit up some crack he had swallowed. Jake is again upset by Alonzo’s actions, but Alonzo, true to character, doesn’t see the problem. We later learn that it was Alonzo who shot Blue and put him in the chair. This scene shows that there are felons out there, but the police are even more of a threat to the legal system because they act with impunity as they pretend to uphold the law.
Blue gives Alonzo the name of a connected drug dealer known as the Sandman. Alonzo and Jake go to this man’s house. There is more disregard for procedure and individual rights, as Alonzo pretends to have a warrant (which turns out to be an Asian restaurant menu), and forces his way into the Sandman’s home. He is not there, but his wife (Macy Gray) and child are. Jake is awkward keeping the wife and the boy on the sofa because he is not really sure why he is there (in more ways than one), after having urged Alonzo to get a real warrant, and then seeing that Alonzo grabbed money from a bedroom. Alonzo appears to be searching for drugs, but he really just wants the Sandman’s stash of cash to help him with his problem with the Russians. When the wife demands the warrant and sees that it is a fake, she yells at the two cops, “You ain’t the police.” She is figuratively correct, since Alonzo isn’t acting like a law abiding cop, doing an illegal search and seizure. She yells to the neighborhood men to stop Alonzo and Jake, and the men open fire on the cops. Alonzo participates in the gunplay, and his car sustains rear windshield damage, as the scene looks more like crooks fighting crooks, instead of the police battling lawbreakers.
Alonzo next takes Jake to one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city. He warns Jake never to enter this part of town alone. Alonzo talks to one of the locals, Bone (Cle Sloan), who thanks Alonzo for helping a relative (probably by skirting the law). But, after Alonzo walks away, Bone says he’s sick of Alonzo and can’t stand him, probably because he does these favors and expects all of the residents to treat him like royalty. Alonzo is here to have sex with a woman, Sara (Eva Mendes), who is hospitable to Jake, and is almost reluctant to abandon him to babysit Alonzo’s young son in the living room. When Alonzo comes out later, Jake and his boy are napping. The look on Alonzo’s face is sinister as he wakes Jake in an ominous manner, pressing his gun to his leg. Alonzo speaks gently to his son, who appears sad, maybe because his father is leaving, or maybe because, even at that young age, he knows how scary his world is. Alonzo exploits those who live in dire circumstances. Otherwise, if he cared about Sara and the boy, he would remove them from their dangerous surroundings.
In contrast to where they were, Alonzo drives Jake and himself to a fancy restaurant where he will meet with the “Three Wise Men.” We again have an upside-down reference here, comparing the biblical travelers who brought gifts at the birth of Christ to three high level corrupt cops who must be given a share of the illegal funds acquired by their minions as payment for approving the carrying out of illegal acts. (Although one could argue that there are too many people of color depicted as criminals in the film, one should also remember that the notorious big shots on either side of the legal divide are white men). Alonzo introduces the men to Jake as some of LAPD’s “finest,” which really means that they are the “finest” at being crooked. Alonzo then exiles Jake to another part of the restaurant. One of the men, Doug Roselli (Harris Yulin) tells a story about how a burglar he caught fooled a judge into thinking he was mentally unbalanced, thus escaping imprisonment in a penitentiary. Alonzo’s first reaction is that you have to give the man credit for working the system (which shows Alonzo’s moral flexibility). When Doug doesn’t share this view, this “Wise” man says he’ll take the burglar out. It isn’t a matter of justice for Doug. He just didn’t like his arrest record being tarnished.
Alonzo makes a stop under the pretense of delivering packages to Smiley’s house. He says, “I do try to do some good in the community.” But whatever “good” Alonzo does, he wants major payback. There is money in one of the items Smiley opens. Alonzo pretends to have to use the bathroom, but actually leaves. The money is payment for Smiley and his companions to kill Jake. Smiley decides to tell Jake about Alonzo’s problem. He says that Alonzo is a “hot head.” There was a Russian in Las Vegas who was nasty toward Alonzo, and Alonzo beat the man to death. It turns out that the Russian was connected to the Russian mob, and they gave Alonzo until midnight of this “training day” to come up with a million dollars, or else he would be killed. Smiley and his men beat Jake up and drag him to that “clean” bathtub in order to shoot him. Smiley says to Jake, “You got the right to be bitch-slapped,” parodying what the police are supposed to say when reading a suspect his Miranda rights. Probably for Smiley and his crew, killing Jake must feel like payback for the times they have been brutalized by the cops and what they endured in prison (being raped is alluded to earlier by Sniper, played by Raymond Cruz). Before shooting Jake, they go through his pockets for money and find the wallet of the young girl Jake rescued from being raped. The girl turns out to be Smiley’s cousin, and he is incensed that Jake has this item. Jake gets out the story of how he helped her. Smiley calls his cousin and she confirms the story. Smiley thanks Jake and sets him free. So, as opposed to what Alonzo was saying, Jake’s putting himself in harm’s way, not for a big drug bust, but just to do the right thing, pays off and saves his life.
Night has now come toward the end of this long day. Jake, looking battered but hardened and focused, rides the bus, and loads his gun. He goes to the neighborhood where Sara lives, the one Alonzo said Jake shouldn’t enter without him. Jake has not complied with his training, since he bothered to save the young girl, wouldn’t shoot Roger or take a cut from the cash they took from him, and now dares to go to the neighborhood called “a jungle.” Bone ask why Jake is there. He can see he means business, and Jake says, “I’m here for Alonzo.” They let him go, because they hate Alonzo, and figure, in a variation of what Alonzo said earlier, “let the garbage men take out the garbage.”
The community allows Jake to leave with the bag of money. Alonzo drives to the airport, maybe hoping he can get out of town. But, the Russians have been following him. They use vans to cut him off. They open fire on Alonzo’s car. He staggers out, still in egotistical denial about his fate, trying to reach his trunk for a weapon. They finish him off with a gangster’s version of a twenty-one gun salute. He ironically becomes an example of the street justice he advocated, since he crossed the line and became a criminal who was wiped out by his own kind.
The film ends with Jake going home after a day at work, but what a day it was. We hear a radio voice-over saying, “A Los Angeles Police Department narcotics officer was killed today serving a high-risk warrant near LAX.” A cover-up, most likely concocted by the Three Wise Men. Will Jake, a lone, honest cop fighting corruption, be able to bring them down and put an end to the corruption? What do you think?
After a week off, the next film is North Country.