Stars: Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Scott Glenn
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writer: David Ayer
Bravura performances from Denzel Washington and, surprisingly, Ethan Hawke, elevate this tale of a corrupt narcotics detective in Los Angeles.
Washington plays Alonzo Harris, a flashy LAPD super detective with an elite handpicked narcotics squad. He’s chosen young Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) to join his team and given him just one day to prove himself worthy. Jake is idealistic but eager to please, knowing that with Alonzo as his tutor, he will move up the ranks in short order and get his own detective’s shield.
The day begins in Alonzo’s souped up Monte Carlo lowrider, touring the mean and dirty streets of East and South Central Los Angeles, in search of big bad drug pushers. This allows Alonzo the opportunity to confront Jake’s idealisms and intimidate him into believing that to catch the ‘wolves, you have to be a wolf’. Alonzo proves himself an abrasive, foul-mouthed prick who tries to justify every irregularity he engages in as being for the greater good of the cause. If you get a little dirty along the way, that’s the name of the game. Except as the day proceeds, the line of distinction between cop and criminal becomes blurrier by the second, testing rookie Jake’s resolve, morality and determination.
The script starts out well but degrades with the inclusion of the unlikely Russian Mafia as an odd ploy for Alonzo’s actions. Inconsistencies abound, most having to do with weapons’ usage. Alonzo brags about being a good shot – how good do you have to be standing five feet away from someone and aiming with double odd buck? Or, Jake aiming a shotgun at someone point blank where the barrel is in line to rip through his own jaw if he fired it. Why don’t directors and film weapons’ handlers get a handle on these ridiculous elements? Otherwise, both characters are believable. If you watched any part of the LAPD’s Rampart scandal, you know there are lots of Alonzos. Hawke’s take on Jake as the man being pulled in two directions at once is exceedingly well realized. However the script falls apart too when he’s made out to be some superman, able to take a beating that would cripple or kill any ordinary human and then go on to save the day.
Lotta says be prepared to stomach the heavy violence and filth exiting Alonzo’s mouth 90% of the time. It’s a solid drama that already has caused tongues to wag about another Academy Award nomination for Washington. The direction is crisp but with way too many in-your-face extreme close-ups of Washington and Hawke in the car. And the script in some places could use some tweaking here and there. Also features: Tom Berenger, Cliff Curtis, Snoop Dogg, Macy Gray.