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It's a rarity to see Denzel Washington play a straight-up villain, and he does so in Training Day with great relish, but if the actor hadn't won an Oscar for it would the movie be particularly memorable? Directed by music video veteran Antoine Fuqua, whose other features have included such competent but undistinguished efforts as The Replacement Killers and Tears of the Sun, Training Day is a gritty urban cop thriller with plenty of style, atmosphere, and fine performances, that in the end comes up feeling empty.
Though Denzel gets more of the limelight, Ethan Hawke stars as the movie's hero, a fresh-faced police rookie on the first day on his new assignment with a high-risk Narcotics unit. You already know that's not going to go well, right? Placed under the tutelage of Alonzo Harris (Washington), a live-wire veteran of the streets with some unorthodox methods for battling crime, most of which involve committing some other form of crime, our newbie Jake Hoyt will find all of his conceptions about law and order challenged as he learns the ways of the street. At first it seems that Alonzo is just an old-school, ends-justify-the-means type of cop, willing to bend the law a little if it means making a bigger score in the end, a philosophy that Jake understands and respects, but as his training day wears on it becomes clear that Alonzo is luring Jake into a dangerous web of lies and corruption. That probably should have been obvious first thing in the morning when Alonzo forced him at gunpoint to smoke PCP, but I suppose Jake was still giving him the benefit of the doubt at that point, or something.
Washington chews into his role with gusto, making Alonzo a charismatic, charming, devious bastard and endowing the character with layers of depth the script otherwise forgets to provide. Say what you will about the rest of the movie, the actor deserved his Oscar as much as anyone that year. Ethan Hawke also delivers solid work despite how clichéd and underwritten his role is. Scott Glenn and Tom Berenger turn up to lend able support, as do a few of Fuqua's friends from the hip-hop community including Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Macy Gray, none of whom embarrass themselves too much. Eva Mendes gets completely naked, and that's certainly a plus. The script is tight, if uninspired and more than a bit predictable, and Fuqua's direction is sleek, stylish, and efficient. The movie makes an effective acting showcase for its leads and entertains as well as it needs to, but never amounts to anything of substance or weight. As a character study about the dangers of police abuse of power or the temptations of corruption, it's got nothing on any typical episode of The Shield. Training Day is slick but ultimately hollow.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Training Day debuts on the Blu-ray format courtesy of Warner Home Video. The studio previously released the picture on HD DVD back in May of this year.
Blu-ray discs are only playable in a compatible Blu-ray player. They will not function in a standard DVD player or in an HD DVD player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
The Training Day Blu-ray is encoded in High Definition 1080p format using MPEG2 compression on a single-layer 25 gb disc. The movie is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 with letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the 16:9 frame.
It's about damn time that one of the major studios started releasing discs on Blu-ray that can finally show off what the format is supposed to do. Sony has almost uniformly dropped the ball with all of their disappointing discs so far, and Lionsgate has been uneven at best, but now Warner steps up to the plate. If they haven't quite hit a home run with Training Day, they at least get in an impressive triple.
The movie has outstanding, razor sharp photography with bold colors and not a hint of grain or noise. The HD DVD released a few months ago is one of the finest discs on that format, its popping High Definition imagery so vivid you feel like you could just step into the movie. The Blu-ray isn't quite that good, but it's close. Obviously sourced from the same master (but compressed here with MPEG2 encoding instead of the superior VC-1), the Blu-ray maintains an excellent sense of detail in both close-ups and wide shots. Colors are great, and unlike many Blu-rays it looks like High Definition from the first frame to the last. Judged on its own, this is a fine disc and probably the best thing I've seen on Blu-ray to date.
Directly comparing the movie on both formats (and it would be disingenuous not to), the HD DVD edition indeed looks a bit better. On that disc, I found myself marveling at the clarity of even the tiniest details in every shot. I didn't have quite that reaction to the Blu-ray, which is slightly softer and duller, with a little less depth. The difference isn't huge, but it's enough to be noticeable. At the time of this writing, there's only one Blu-ray player on the market (the Samsung BD-P1000), and if rumors are to be believed the unit may be employing excessive Noise Reduction filtering, which could account for the difference. Until better players are available, I can't speak to that with certainty, but I'm willing to acknowledge the possibility.
The MPEG2 compression has only one significant flaw that I noticed. The opening shot of a sunrise exhibits serious color banding. The HD DVD has a similar problem but to a much lesser extent. It's barely noticeable on that disc, but extremely glaring on this one. Otherwise, I didn't find any compression problems worth noting (a true rarity for Blu-ray), which speaks well for the care that Warner puts into their transfers. Both discs have an incredibly minor presence of edge enhancement ringing, most visible around the 48-minute mark, but it's so faint and fleeting that it's hardly worth mentioning. This is a very nice disc.
The Blu-ray disc is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over a Blu-ray player's analog Component Video outputs.
The movie's soundtrack is provided in standard Dolby Digital 5.1 format. The HD DVD offered both Dolby Digital Plus and lossless Dolby TrueHD audio options that give it a decided edge, but the DD 5.1 track provided here is excellent in its own right. Warner has decided to encode the track at a high 640 kb/s bit rate, which puts it about on par audibly with the HD DVD's DD+. Fidelity is terrific. The movie has rocking deep bass and very good surround envelopment. Although one of the advanced audio formats might have put it over the top, I've got no complaints about the soundtrack here.
Subs & Dubs:
Optional subtitles – English, English captions for the hearing impaired, French, or Spanish.
Alternate language tracks - Quebecois French DD 5.1 or Spanish DD 2.0.
All of the bonus features on this Blu-ray title are recycled from the DVD edition and are presented in Standard Definition video with MPEG2 compression. All of the supplements from the DVD (identical to those on the HD DVD) have carried over.
- Audio Commentary - Director Antoine Fuqua speaks eloquently about what drew him to the project and his intentions.
- HBO First Look: The Making of Training Day (15 min.) – The usual promotional material featuring interviews with the cast and crew.
- Deleted Scenes (13 min.) – Some good footage in here (in lousy quality video), but none that would make or break the movie. Most was cut for pacing, or because it makes the Alonzo character too sympathetic.
- Alternate Ending (5 min.) – More of an extended ending than an alternate one, the extra twist is unnecessary and just serves to bog down the last scene.
- Music Videos - "#1" by Nelly, and "Got You" by Pharoahe Monch.
- Theatrical Trailer
Training Day didn't do much for me as a movie, but it's pretty entertaining and features some very good performances. The Blu-ray edition has excellent picture and sound quality, if not quite up to the same level as the HD DVD. Viewers with the choice will want to go with the HD DVD, but Blu-ray owners won't be missing out on much with this disc. Despite my reservations about the movie, the disc is recommended.