I have extremely conflicting feelings about Training Day. A part of me loves this film, while another hates everything it represents. That is a rare feat for a film to achieve.
On the bonus disc of Brian De Palma’s Scarface, there is a documentary about the impact of the 1983 film on popular culture. I remember this short doc clearly because it was pretty much filled with hip-hoppers who were passionate about Scarface. It feels obvious now, but a lot of early 2000’s hip-hop music and imagery was clearly inspired by Scarface. The film’s influence on hip-hop goes even further back, the most famous example I can give is Biggie’s 10 Crack Commandments. The fashion, the sharp suits, the cigar smoke – these hip-hop tropes are all inspired by that film.
Slowly but surely, I see Training Day growing in the same vein as Scarface – especially in the hip-hop community. I am starting to see a lot of Alonzo Harris avatars on hip-hop forum sites and the ‘my nigga’ quote has been slowly cropping up on Twitter and appearing on Memes everywhere.
On one level, Training Day is a hell of a film. It’s tough to grumble about it on a technical level – yes there are examples of shoddy acting (I’m looking at you Dr Dre) but it isn’t enough to pull you away from this grim world of corrupt police officers.
And, as always, Denzel Washington represents almost everything that is great about the film. Washington’s performance as Harris is absolutely worthy of the Best Actor Oscar he received for it. The ‘corrupt cop’ is nothing new in cinema, but the way Washington presents this familiar trope is something else entirely. Yes Alonzo Harris is bad, and evil, and manipulative, but he is also laugh-out-loud funny, extremely charming and seductive. Much like Tony Montana, as an audience member you get totally taken in by this absolute mad-man and you do end up cheering for him.
And for me, that is the issue. Washington is a bit too good at being bad. And yes, this is one of those being black thing. I just hate the message Alonzo Harris sends out about, well, black people. I know we are living in a world where the most powerful man is black, but this fact hides that there is still a sad dearth of positive black male role models. I’m talking good old fashion members of society such as doctors, teachers and … police officers.
When I talk to relatively young black lads these days they all still want to be rappers and words like ‘gangster’, ‘money’ and ‘hoes’ still roll off their tongue as easily as it did when I was in my early 20s. This image of the ‘gangster’ black male is reinforced by Washington’s Harris and, whether I like it or not, Alonzo Harris is going to continue to influence a lot of young people, just like Al Pacino’s Tony Montana did to folks of my generation.
And on top of everything, it just pisses me off that Denzel won as Oscar for playing Harris but didn’t for playing Malcolm X. For me that says a lot.
With that said, this film is dope. It is an enjoyable and thrilling ride. But no matter how many times I try, this film always leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.