A brutal, fierce, and tense police thriller, "Training Day" takes a well-worn format and infuses it with freshness and verve, transcending its derivative elements to form a more than worthy companion to the likes of "The French Connection" and "Internal Affairs".
Antoine Fuqua's direction is brisk, stylish, and suspenseful, but of more importance to this policier's success is screenwriter David Ayer's ear for authentic street slang and the superb central performances of good cop/bad cop pairing Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington.
Hawke is a revelation. Which is something that no self-respecting reviewer ever expects to write. As naive, rookie detective Jake Hoyt - assigned to Washington's ruthless veteran for one day only, to prove his worth - he uses his fragile, prissy image to his advantage, making his gradual transformation from dewy-eyed idealist to hardened 'tec believable and compelling.
Washington, meanwhile, cleverly plays off his image as a wholesome American, delivering a typically intense performance as the morally ambiguous cop who believes that "you've got to be a wolf to catch a wolf".
The question that both Hawke and the audience must answer is this: is he simply bending the rules to get results, or snapping them for personal gain? And, even if he is batting for the law, do the ends justify the means?
The only problems in Ayer's twisty, unpredictable script come in the final third, where seat-gripping tension eventually gives way to horror movie-style cliché (a character's fate hinges on the sort of ridiculous coincidence that could well happen in real life, but is too contrived for fiction). Overall, though, this gritty, impactful movie matches its bloody violence with a rare intelligence. Cop that.