Sunday, April 29, 2018

Training Day

SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.
This 2001 film, from African American director Antoine Fuqua and writer David Ayer, presents us with two world views: one, the right-side-up version, represented by LA police officer Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke); and the other, the upside-down one, embodied by narcotics detective Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington in a Best Actor Oscar-winning performance). In a way, Jake is the before picture of an uncompromised rookie cop who wants to “protect the streets” by getting rid of dangerous drugs, and Alonzo is the after photo of a man who lost his idealism and has crossed the legal line, going from by-the-book methods to illegal ones to put away criminals. While doing so, Alonzo serves himself as much as the community, maybe more so. (You can find this theme of crossing the line in David Mamet scripts. Think of The Verdict, House of Games, and The Untouchables, among others). Actually, as we get to know these two characters, and others, it’s not really that black and white. There may not he fifty shades of gray, but there are a number of them in this story.
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 receives a phone call from Alonzo. In this brief exchange we start to see what kind of person Alonzo is. He tells Jake that his men “don’t go to roll call,” saying that is for “patrol ferries.” (Alonzo several times belittles other policemen, such as one changing a person’s tire, by not acknowledging their contributions), and when Jake starts to thank him for the opportunity to serve with him, Alonzo hangs up on him. Alonzo believes the rules do not apply to him, whether they involve his job or even manners. When Jake arrives at the cafe to meet Alonzo, the latter practically ignores him as he reads the newspaper. Jake is uncomfortable, not knowing what to do, and when he talks, Alonzo chastises him for interrupting his morning ritual. Alonzo is a jaded man, calling the printed news mostly “bullshit,” and reads it only for entertainment purposes. Since Jake interrupted his fun, he bullies Jake, making him perform for Alonzo, having him tell a personal police story, which Alonzo then criticizes as being boring. Jake, however, sees his story as an example of having saved someone from getting killed by a heavily armed guy, which is a cop’s job. (In this conversation, Alonzo uses the word “boom,” as he does often in the movie, which not only sounds like a gun going off, and which points to him being dangerous, but it also signifies how Jake, and us, never know “what’s going to happen,” as there are surprises in the plot. As he tells Jake later, “This shit’s chess, it ain’t checkers”).

Alonzo also drags the conversation into the sexual gutter, saying he has five boys, and if “You ever need a son, you let me know. I’ll hook your old lady up. I can’t miss.” Jake asks him to leave his family out of the conversation. Alonzo says, “I respect that.” But, he doesn’t, and then starts asking Jake about his sex life with his wife. Alonzo also insults Jake’s virility for not making a sexual move on his female training officer. Alonzo is crude and demeaning, asking Jake if he has a penis, and if so, he should reach into one of the pockets on either side of his male organ, and find some money. So, Alonzo even makes Jake pay for Alonzo’s breakfast. Maybe Alonzo humiliates Jake because he regards Jake’s Boy Scout attitude as naive and dangerous, or maybe he resents Jake for holding onto the values he has lost along his crooked way.
Alonzo’s rogue ways are evident in the way he crosses the street, defying the traffic signals. He wears his two guns openly, as if he’s a sheriff in the Wild West. His car is a 1979 Chevy Monte Carlo with hydraulics that jack the vehicle up, mirroring Alonzo’s arrogance. And, his ride is his “office,” showing how he doesn’t even have to report to division headquarters, like other policemen. He looks more like a hoodlum than a cop, but then again, he is supposed to be undercover, (even though the whole neighborhood knows who he is), and his impressive arrest record allows him to indulge his posturing. Alonzo doesn’t have to walk the straight and narrow ethical path, and, instead can be the “zig-zag man,” because, as he says, they build prisons because of him. His cynical attitude is reflected when he advises Jake to forget about what he learned at the police academy, because abiding by the rules will get him killed in the real world.

The law according to Alonzo allows small time drug dealers to operate so that they will inform on the big time criminals, and Alonzo can make the big busts that allow him so much legal latitude. He takes Jake to where one of his confidential informants does business. This young Latino man can be lethal according to Alonzo, but he allows him to stay on the streets just so Alonzo can extract information from the youth. That is why Alonzo calls the dealer his “teammate,” because Alonzo has blurred the line between cop and criminal. He bends the law, doing favors for crooks, like getting this fellow’s mom out of INS detention, thus putting them in his debt. Alonzo also says that he allows the young man to sell illegal substances to make some money for his family. In his twisted way, Alonzo has rationalized his actions by accepting the pessimistic premise that dealing drugs is the only way the boy can earn a living.
The dealer sells marijuana to some white youths in a car. Alonzo chases them and scares them, saying if they show up again in this neighborhood he will have the local hoodlums sexually assault the girlfriend, who is in the back seat. He confiscates their purchase, but doesn’t arrest them. He isn’t going to bring them in for a small purchase, so why does he stop these kids? In a strange way he is protecting white youths by making them afraid to enter this territory, as if he doesn’t want to rock the “white privilege” boat, which may bring him grief. He also appears to want to use their “product” to show Jake that he must be willing to take drugs in order to go undercover. Jake at first declines, sticking by his ethical standards, but Alonzo is brutal in his admonishment of Jake’s refusal. He puts a gun to Jake’s head, saying Jake would blow his cover, and would be a dead man. Alonzo tells him, “You turn shit down on the streets, and the chief brings your wife a crisply folded flag.” He then stops the car (in the middle of traffic, again defying the rules) and tells Jake to get out of the Monte Carlo because he doesn’t want him on his team. Knowing that he may blow his chances for promotion and putting drug dealers away, Jake smokes the pot. Jake admits to smoking weed in school, and Alonzo says that fact wasn’t in his records, making the point that everyone has “secrets,” and even the supposedly clean Jake has some dirty laundry in his past.
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.

One of the men, Lou Jacobs (Raymond J. Barry) says he doesn’t know why he’s talking to Alonzo, because, “I don’t talk to dead men.” They know about Alonzo’s trouble with the Russian mob. Alonzo says he can solve his problem if they will allow him to “cash in on an account,” his oldest one. This statement is code for killing a drug dealer and taking his money so he can pay off the Russians. Alonzo says the guy has to be taken out or else he will be a “high security risk,” and would expose the police involvement in the drug business. But, he has to ask permission from these three men, who instead of respecting the law, give him the green light to rob and commit murder. They realize that they will no longer get a cut of the criminal’s business, but they are willing to let that go because they want to keep Alonzo working for them. Alonzo must pay them to get a genuine search warrant to make the the police activity against the drug dealer appear to be legal. Alonzo puts the money he took from the Sandman’s home in the trunk of one of the men’s cars. It’s a Mercedes, which shows how well these men have profited by using their power to perpetuate criminal activity to enrich themselves. Stan Gursky warns Alonzo to make sure he makes the hit look legitimate, so he says to him “I don’t want to see you on the front page,” because that would damage their outward appearance of legitimacy.
Alonzo calls his team and tells them to bring picks and shovels. It turns out that Roger is Alonzo’s target. Alonzo tells him that he has to dig up the four million dollars buried underneath Roger’s kitchen floor because the Three Wise Men said “You gotta render unto Caesar.” We have another instance here where Alonzo, engaged in criminal acts, ironically makes a religious reference, in this case a quote from Jesus, which has the effect of sharpening the contrast between what is the right and the wrong thing to do. Alonzo wants to turn in three million and keep a million for themselves. Jake does not want a cut, which makes the others apprehensive about Jake since now he can turn them in without incriminating himself. One of the men says, “Someone didn’t sleep through ethics class,” because school is a dream world that should not be confused with the real one. It fits in with what Alonzo said earlier that Jake had to forget what he learned at the police academy to survive outside of it. Alonzo tells Jake that he will kill Roger because he is “a virgin shooter beyond suspicion,” and the death will appear legitimate (again, there is irony in that Jake’s uncorrupted past would be used to hide a murder). When Jake refuses to do the deed, Alonzo shoots Roger, and uses the victim’s gun to fire two shots at one of the men, Jeff (Peter Greene), to make it look like Roger’s death was an act of self-defense. Alonzo says they will still say Jake did it, for which Alonzo says Jake will receive the Medal of Valor. In this upside-down world, a murder can be passed off as an act of heroism. Another irony is that one of the bullets Alonzo shoots at his bullet-proof vest wearing “teammate,” Jeff, actually gets through, which points to how Alonzo’s “chess” games can prove dangerous to the players. Alonzo first threatens to kill Jake, too, whose death he will pin on Roger. However, Jake grabs the gun from Alonzo, but Alonzo says if Jake doesn’t play along, he’ll have him tested for drugs and the PCP in his blood will end his career.

After the police and ambulance arrive, Alonzo drives off with the money he skimmed off the top, and he and Jake drive to a Latino area. In the car, Jake is angry about the killing of Roger, and wonders how Alonzo could murder his friend. Alonzo says he wasn’t a friend; he was a man who sold drugs to kids for ten years. Alonzo makes it sound as if he exacted justice without bothering the overburdened legal system. He says, “the world is a better place without him. The man was the biggest major violator in Los Angeles.” Of course, Alonzo doesn’t say that he took Roger out now, not because he was corrupting young people with illegal drugs, but because he needed his money. Alonzo wants Jake to take his cut, because the others won’t feel comfortable if he doesn’t. He says, “Sometimes you gotta have a little dirt on you for anybody to trust you,” and Alonzo and his unit are “comfortable” living in, and contributing to, a dirty, corrupted world. Jake still refuses. We don’t know it yet, but Jake’s desire to play by the rules convinces Alonzo that he has to have him eliminated. He is already on the phone in the car to a Latino gang leader, Smiley (Cliff Curtis), and tells him, “Make sure that bathtub is clean, homey.”

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.”

Jake sneaks into the house and gets Alonzo’s son to hide in a closet. Jake gets the drop on Alonzo who is with Sara in the bedroom. Jake wants to arrest Alonzo and confiscate the money. Alonzo flicks a cigarette at Jake, distracts him, and a gunfight ensues. Sara tells Jake that Alonzo went out the window, so she obviously is also not thrilled about being under Alonzo’s thumb. The two cops fight, but Jake gets the worst of it. Interestingly, Alonzo doesn’t finish Jake off, underestimating him. Jake is able to jump down from a balcony and cause Alonzo to crash his car. Alonzo thinks he can bribe the men in the area to shoot Jake. But, they have had enough, and Bone puts a gun on the ground, telling Alonzo he has to do his own dirty work. They don’t mind Alonzo being brought down as long as they don’t get blamed for it. Alonzo’s thinks he can take advantage of Jake’s reluctance to shoot someone, especially a fellow officer. But his arrogance causes him to belittle Jake, who shoots him in the butt before Alonzo can reach the gun on the ground. Jake says he has acquired knowledge on this training day. He says, “You wanna know what I learned today? I’m not like you.” He yanks off Alonzo’s badge, sort of court martialing him, stripping him of his ability to continue to hide his crimes behind his policeman’s facade, and says, “You don’t deserve this.” Alonzo has been so corrupted by the abuse of his power as a cop that he can’t face defeat. He continues to threaten the community, saying, “I’m the police. I run shit around here. You just live here.” His total embracing of his arrogance is seen when he says, “King Kong ain’t got shit on me.” Not only is he delusional about his strength, he also is ignorant of how much more noble Kong was then he is.

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.

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