One of the greatest actors of our generation is Denzel Washington. Whether he’s playing an amateur sleuth (Devil in a Blue Dress), a human rights activist (Malcolm X), or a gangster (American Gangster), the veteran has proven his versatility within the world of movies and he’ll always be remembered for bringing his A-game in every role that he’s in. With Denzel Washington starring in the upcoming Joel Coen movie, The Tragedy of Macbeth, I figured it would be great to look back at one of the actor’s most quoted and memorable movies, Training Day. This brutal cop drama also stars Ethan Hawke (Boyhood, Before Midnight) and Scott Glenn (The Silence of the Lambs, Apocalypse Now), the film centers around Jake Hoyt, who’s a rookie traveling the LAPD’s toughest neighborhoods with a veteran police officer. Hoyt is hoping to join the inner-city narcotics unit; however, Alonzo Harris may have different plans on the rookie’s training day. How could you forget, “King Kong ain’t got s*** on me!”, it’s not just the quote itself but the tremendous performance by Washington. At this point, Alonzo Harris was a dead man who was simply scared over what’s going to happen to him. Denzel managed to pull off a multi-layered performance here: being scared, prideful, and tough. Let’s get this out of the way, Training Day is NOT Denzel Washington’s best movie. With movies like Glory – in which he won his first Academy Award here – Malcolm X, and Philadelphia in his catalog, it’s kind of hard to pin down this film as his best.
However, in terms of character, Alonzo Harris is the best role that Denzel Washington has ever had. Yep, better than Malcolm X, Frank Lucas, or Creasy. Here’s the thing, Training Day is an all-around great film. Is it perfect? No. Most hate the ending of Harris’s demise, even though the moment was built up well. However, the glue that keeps the film together is both Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington. In fact, Jake Hoyt excels as the protagonist because of Alonzo Harris. It’s amazing that this is Washington’s first true role as the villain as the veteran slips into the role with a nice swagger and poise. Alonzo Harris is a deplorable human being, but never to the point where he’s over-the-top or unbelievable. Sure, you can say stopping in the middle of traffic and forcing Hoyt to get high is extreme, but even that moment never feels like it goes over the boundaries. Harris abuses his power constantly and is downright criminal; however, what truly makes him a compelling character is what lies underneath his outer exterior. We never get a full backstory on Harris and why he is the way he is; however, there are hints sprinkled throughout the film that gives us a glimpse of the man he was before.
During the car scene where Alonzo explains that he was just like Jake; Was he lying? Or telling the truth? Was Alonzo Harris a guy that was corrupted by the streets? Or did his growth in power turn him into a monster? These intriguing questions really drive Harris to be one of the best villains in cinema (at least in my opinion). The evil and corruption of Harris make us want to root for Hoyt. Alonzo is such a scumbag that you want the rookie to put a bullet in him, though you actually feel sympathy for the monster during his infamous speech following his encounter with Jake. As previously stated, Harris is dead, but it’s the first time in the film where he’s truly showing his vulnerability. While we do get moments of humanization, notably when he’s with his girlfriend and son, that one single moment showcased him as a fully formed character. Did Alonzo deserve to be treated as a practice target for the Russians? Probably not, as I think the better ending would’ve seen him get his comeuppance from Jake or one of the criminals he treats like crap; however, it’s not like Antoine Fuqua randomly inserted Russians in the film to specifically kill Alonzo so the ending is fine in my book. Training Day may not be Denzel’s best movie, but it’s definitely his greatest role.