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This is the movie that Denzel Washington made famous. His Oscar nomination and subsequent victory for best actor did more on publicity for the film than any ad campaign ever could. But this isn’t unheard of when Oscar nominations are announced. Films tend to rake in the box office cash if still in release or bring in more money during the rental and retail sales of the film, particularly on DVD. So is this film worthy of such success, and is Denzel really the best of this years Oscar bunch? The debate rages on....

Movie

Training Day deals with two LAPD narcotics detectives who have a very interesting day on the job. This one is as far removed from the buddy cop genre you can get, mainly because the two men in question are far from buddies. Young and eager recruit Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) is assigned hard man Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) as his partner to show him the ropes of what is a pretty dangerous profession. But Harris doesn’t make it any less dangerous in dealing with drug pushers and underground figures. He’s got a hidden agenda and Jake is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Jake initially finds himself meeting Alonzo at a coffee shop and is immediately taken aback by Harris’ methods. This is going to be one long day. From there we witness Alonzo’s extravagant car, Jake trying to save a girl from being raped, Alonzo’s violent and corrupt ways and Jake smoking some drugs and drinking beer on the job. Throughout all this it is obvious that Alonzo is a very smart man who knows full well what he is doing and how he can get away with it all. But Jake is more than just a rookie cop and soon the two really lock horns, with the good natured Jake struggling to cope with dirty Alonzo’s blatantly corrupt crime fighting style.

It's gonna be a long day

What helps this film is the small time frame with which the action takes place. Spanning just a single day, the movie seems to move at a fast pace but still includes several lengthy and detailed scenes that don’t gloss over any important facts just to keep the narrative flowing. The first two scenes with Alonzo and Jake are perfect examples and certainly help to grab your interest from the beginning. This is also thanks largely to Washington and Hawke who do an awesome job of making their characters stand out from the myriad of detectives we’ve all seen in the past.

Washington’s Alonzo is so commanding both in terms of his character and his screen presence that it is impossible to imagine anyone else playing it better. It’s about time he played a villain and he seems to relish the chance to be a bad-ass for once. Training Day is the perfect choice because it enables him to portray a detailed character rather than your run-of-the-mill, out-and-out villain. That said, I still don’t believe his performance rivaled that of Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind simply because the intricacy of his character wasn’t nearly as great. Sure, Washington was the best choice for the role and played it outstandingly, but the complexity and challenge of playing a man such as John Nash is impossible to top. Just don’t tell Denzel I said that.

Ethan Hawke is surprisingly convincing as a rookie detective with a bit of grunt in him that inevitably gets him in and out of trouble. His journey throughout the day is amazing and Hawke does a great job of making it all seem so natural. Alonzo puts Jake through a lot during his Training Day, so smoking drugs, pulling a gun on your partner and getting the crap beaten out of you needed someone capable of looking convincing alongside Denzel. Hawke delivers.

Being a film about race, gangsters, drugs and the like there’s bound to be a fair few small cameos that deliver some extra punch, so to speak. But this time there’s a decidedly musical flavour. Making appearances throughout the film are Dr. Dre as a detective who doesn’t take too kindly to Jake’s moral standings, Snoop Dogg as a drug dealer in a wheelchair and even Macy Gray, who is pretty humorous as a drug-using mother, complete with bad make-up, bad hair and extremely long fingernails. I hate her music but she’s pretty good in this flick.

Training Day is a very interesting movie, one that steers well away from the familiar detective genre. Director Antoine Fuqua has taken the next step from a visually exciting but lacking in coherent narrative (read The Replacement Killers) into a film with much more on offer in the storyline stakes. Right from the start Alonzo will drag you in, taking poor young Jake along with him.

Still only 11:00am

Video

This is one of the first DVDs of recent times where I’ve been really stunned by the visual quality. Presented in 2.35:1 and 16:9 enhanced, this transfer is among the best I’ve seen. Roadshow have continued to set the standard with their transfers and this one is no exception.

The sharpness and detail is second to none and colours are as vibrant and true to life as can be. Several night scenes require something extra but the visuals hold up, with the blacks maintaining depth whilst still giving us impeccable detail. There were only minor instances of aliasing notable on the front of a couple of cars during the film but this is as close to reference quality as you’re gonna get. Brilliant.

Audio

The film comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and, like the visuals, it will knock your socks off. This one sounds absolutely fantastic, which admittedly surprised me a little considering there was a decent amount of dialogue as well as those trademark action sequences. The guns and cars and effects are used very well to create a realistic sound without trying to blow you away with pure noise. A perfect example is the surround use during these scenes as well as the ambient effects during the dialogue driven moments. Dialogue is perfectly clear even amongst the shouting and the mumbling gangsters. Everything is blended perfectly to create one of the most immersive soundtracks around at the moment. The big “r” word must be mentioned again for this DVD, cause it sure is reference quality. That’s two out of two. Not bad.

Extras

This release contains a fair array of extras, all of which are of absolute quality. First up is the Director’s Commentary with Antoine Fuqua. He’s a smart man with a definite passion for filmmaking and it shows. He doesn’t delve into many of the actual filmmaking techniques but does show an obvious enthusiasm for his work and the people that work with him. Certainly one that’s good to have running in the background.

Next up is the Making Of Documentary entitled Crossing The Line. This one is above your average fare and contains a lot of decent behind the scenes footage, minimising the need for actual clips from the movie. One interesting thing that came out of the 15 minute featurette is that the screenplay was written by a white man named David Ayer, who had the experience of growing up in a poor black community. This is quite good to watch, with Fuqua adding his own comments to what is a solid piece.

Dodgy dealings

Also included are a bunch of deleted scenes, three in total, that are presented as one long piece without chapter stops or individual menu items. The scenes here are particularly good and would have been useful in the final film. No explanation as to why they were cut is given but one could assume it was to keep the running time down, which is a wise choice. Nevertheless this is a very interesting deleted scenes package that is above and beyond what we have become used to with some new releases.

There is also an alternate ending that goes deeper into the final events of Jake’s training day. This was interesting but probably not all that useful, which made it a good decision to be cut from the film. One very interesting point to note is that the press release by Roadshow includes one of the biggest spoilers to date. In boasting about this alternate ending they actually mention how the film finished in the first place. This is totally unforgivable. Promoting an extra feature is one thing but including references to the finale is just plain stupid. Someone down there made a big, big mistake. Needless to say, don’t read the press release if you haven’t seen the flick.

Rounding out the package are two music videos, one from Nelly and the other from Pharoahe Monch who I had never heard before. They are of reasonable quality, with the sound as Dolby 2.0. There is also a theatrical trailer and some cast & crew biographies, which round out a pretty solid package.

Overall

Despite what many people think, Denzel Washington doesn’t actually carry the film. He is one of the main reasons it works so well but when you have a pretty good story, a great pace and time frame for the film and men named Ethan Hawke and Antoine Fuqua you don’t have to rely on any Oscar winning performances to come out on top. Training Day is a great film that is different enough to make most people stand up and notice. Couple that with simply outstanding video and audio quality along with a solid extras package and you’ve got one of the most impressive discs of recent times. Do not hesitate to grab yourself a copy.


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