Is it too soon to say nice things about Will Smith? When it came time for the 2002 Academy Awards to be chosen, I was all set for the recently fallen from grace and former Fresh Prince to be handed the Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of Muhammad Ali in Ali (2001). Instead, it went to Denzel Washington for his Detective Alonzo Harris in Training Day (2001). It is hard to compare performances. I am also a little biased as I believe Ali is the greatest boxer who ever lived, and somebody who actually stood for something positive. While I am not necessarily poo pooing Washington’s acting chops, what I am against is the role he filled, and us as a society rewarding it. The Academy rare awards villains, and Detective Harris, as we shall see, exactly fits that description. Call me a square Catholic, but I prefer to reward the good guys.
The film Training Day is actually about a different detective, Officer Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke), and his first day with the Los Angeles Police Department as an undercover narcotics officer. He goes to meet Detective Harris, and the encounter comes with the ranking person in the unit’s reputation as being a maverick. Still, Officer Hoyt is excited to do his ride along with Detective Harris and learn the ropes in the toughest parts of the city. It soon becomes apparent that Detective Harris earned his reputation by doing things in an unconventional manner. After some time riding around, and listening to Detective Harris talk about some of the things they have to do on a daily basis, but actions which could mean quick promotions, Officer Hoyt’s attention is distracted when he sees an attack happening in an alley. When he jumps out of the car to stop it, he does so against Detective Harris’ wishes, who says they are only out there because of drugs. He also takes the perpetrators wallet without a second thought. This is a recurring theme, as well as collecting many of the drugs and related paraphernalia. The biggest test comes soon thereafter when Detective Harris suggests that Officer Hoyt smoke some of the phenylcyclohexyl piper (PCP). When Officer Hoyt refuses, Detective Harris says that in order to catch a criminal, he must become a criminal. This is not enough to convince the rookie, so he is threatened. He then complies and is in a drug induced stupor for some time. As soon as he comes out of it, it is back to work, this time apprehending a dealer named Blue (Snoop Dogg). Instead of arresting Blue, he leads them to his employer, who is in jail, but Detective Harris takes $40,000 from the incarcerated’s house. From there, Detective Harris takes his increasingly worried partner with him to a lunch he has with a set of corrupt judges. They remind him that the Russian mafia is out get him, and he trades the money he stole for a warrant for one of the mob man’s arrest. The warrant takes them to one of their houses, and along with four other narcotics officers of questionable character, they raid it and this time find $4 million, with Detective Harris taking a quarter of it. They had been joined by a former LAPD drug officer and friend of Detective Harris, now drug dealer, named Roger (Scott Glenn), who is also there for the profit. Detective Harris orders Officer Hoyt to shoot Roger, but again Officer Hoyt does not want to comply. This time, Detective Harris does it himself. He then uses Roger’s gun to put a bullet into Detective Jeff’s (Peter Greene) Kevlar vest, though one of them penetrates and wounds him. The idea is to make Roger’s murder look like self-defense. It is at this point that Officer Hoyt decides he has had enough, grabs a shot gun, and points it at the dirty cops. Detective Harris reminds Officer Hoyt that if he were to turn them in, they would have to tell the police about the PCP in his system, thus ending the young cop’s career before it could get started. Defeated for the moment, Officer Hoyt stands down and they leave. As they go, Detective Harris says that they need to visit the family of one of his informants, who is also a gang member, named Smiley (Cliff Curtis). While Detective Harris takes care of his shady business, more is revealed about why the Russian mafia is after him. He had beaten to death one of their members in Las Vegas, and they have demanded that he pay them $1 million to smooth over the situation. It also become apparent that this is a set up to have Officer Hoyt killed. Though he tries to fight his way out, the others subdue him and are about to execute the cop. Before this can take place, they find evidence of the rape victim that he had earlier saved, he turns out to be Smiley’s cousin. A phone call to said cousin corroborates the story, and Officer Hoyt is spared. Now freed, he is determined to confront Detective Harris. Officer Hoyt finds Detective Harris with his mistress, Sara (Eva Mendes). There is a brief shoot out that spills into the street where several gang members, tired of Detective Harris’ control, do nothing despite his demands. Instead, Officer Hoyt takes the money and leaves, intending to turn it in as evidence. There follows a brief exchange of words with those in the neighborhood before Detective Harris, too, drives away, intending to head to the airport. His trip is cut short when the Russian mafia catches up to him and guns him down in the street. We close with Officer Hoyt returning home, reports of Detective Harris’ death being heard in the background.
There is little redeeming about watching Training Day, but it does offer some moral questions. It presents situations about which we can theorize, but have no real clue as to how we would react until we are presented with them. The guide that I typically use to speculate as to how I would handle them is my Faith. You have to give Officer Hoyt some credit. Despite Detective Harris’ evidently twisted sense of justice, which comes to the fore from the moment we meet him, Officer Hoyt continues to want to do the right thing. It is just unfortunate that the two had to meet. I say unfortunate because Detective Harris forces Officer Hoyt to do drugs, which seems to be part of a plan that the veteran cop had for some time. By making Officer Hoyt smoke the PCP, Detective Harris automatically brings the rookie down to gutter level. From this point on, anything that Officer Hoyt might try to do to curtail Detective Harris extra-legal activities can be called into question by this one bad choice. And therein lies the rub. I would like to say, being the upstanding Christian that I try to be, that I would attempt to find some way around doing the drugs, or even take the bullet. Death is preferable to sin. That might sound crazy, and it is easy to write about from the safety of my familiar chair, but it is nonetheless true. Still, Officer Hoyt’s choice is an understandable one given the circumstances. From there, he could have slipped further from the right side of the law and simply gone along with whatever Detective Harris wanted. You can see it happen, no? You have already apparently screwed up, so why not keep going? Besides, if so many others can get away with it, why cannot Officer Hoyt? I have a theory that this helps explain why there have been the high number of defections from the Church, but that is a discussion for a different time. Instead, Officer Hoyt continues to look to do the right thing, and I find that commendable. Finally, it is amazing what one good deed can do. Officer Hoyt saving Smiley’s cousin ends up being a reward down the line when he is about to die. From a Faith perspective, what Officer Hoyt did has its treasure in heaven, but sometimes it is nice to reap the benefits in this life, too.
As I alluded at the beginning of the last paragraph, there is little reason for watching Training Day. I will always be somewhat bitter towards the film for it getting the Oscar for Denzel Washington over Will Smith. We should stop rewarding villainous behavior, even if it is just a movie. I think our society would be a better place for it.