The Thin Blue Line

By Appelo, Tim | The Nation, November 19, 2001 | Go to article overview

The Thin Blue Line


Appelo, Tim, The Nation


TRAINING DAY

What could be more ominous than a movie about a black cop and a white cop? All the combinations are worn too smooth to move anymore, from streety-mouth kid Eddie and stinky old Nolte to madcap Mel and wise old Glover. As for the chronic theme of cop realpolitik and consequent corruption, stop it! Bored now! Plus, today's cop movies are lousy with hard-shelled softies who attain grudging racial rapprochement in the heat of the night prowl of gangbangerland. Most cop-movie makers should be turned over to the authorities.

So my hopes were low for Training Day, noted music video director Antoine Fuqua's flick about a Dirty Old Pragmatist, Alonzo (Denzel Washington), showing a Dewy Rookie, Jake (Ethan Hawke), the bloody LAPD ropes. But instantly, Denzel won me over. Nasty in black from his thug cap to his victim-stomper boots, he manages a better evil makeover than I could have imagined.

The odor of sanctity has clung too much to this man. He's forever playing upright symbols in do-good dramas: Biko, Malcolm X, white-coated docs, white-collar lawyers, black righters of wrong. When he's a rebel, it's for a cause: a submarine hero defying a warmonger commander, a Gulf War hero ashamed of his medal, a Civil War hero demanding dignity. His films' titles tell the story: Courage Under Fire, Cry Freedom, Glory. And he's preposterously perfect; when Newsweek needed an actor whose ideal facial symmetry illustrated the science of human beauty, Denzel was their man. He wouldn't boost his career by doing the blockbuster Seven: It seemed "evil" to him. His Oscar might as well have been for Best Moral Actor--in fact, they should make all the Oscar statues in his image. They would seem more purely gold.

So the badder-than-Bad Lieutenant Alonzo is the role Denzel needs as desperately as the genre needs him. And he's better than Harvey Keitel in basically the same part. Harvey's hypocrite narc bellowed his degradation through a megaphone of self-pity; Denzel, armed with a smarter script, plays Alonzo like an insinuating jazz sax, all tricky riffs that hide melody's meaning from the uninitiated. For the longest time, it's hard for us to tell that Alonzo really is wholly evil.

We regard him through the big button eyes of Jake as Alonzo lays down the law in his "office," a low-down Monte Carlo rolling through LA's scarier scenes. "Unlearn everything you learned at the academy; it'll get you killed," snaps Alonzo. So far, so Popeye Doyle. "In order to protect the sheep, you got to go after the wolves. And to catch a wolf, you got to be a wolf." What keeps this from being familiar is Alonzo's skill at keeping Jake, and us, off balance. When you see it written down, you see it's horseshit. But while Alonzo's talking, you're intimidated by his flashpowder temper, seduced by his teasing, inviting grin, mesmerized by his rousing preacher phrasing (Denzel's real-life father was a preacher), manipulated by his ambiguous cackle when you invariably get everything wrong. Jake is also scared of the vision of the future Alonzo shows him: a cop writing parking tickets, or helping a lady with a flat tire. If Jake can't prove he's a wolf in his first twenty-four hours on the job, he won't pass Alonzo's muster, and that's his sole shot at getting ahead.

Ethan, a wispy poet onscreen and off, who can't seem to grow a proper beard at 30, seems an unlikely partner for Denzel. That's why Denzel forced the studio to cast him. The contrast is so extreme, it makes the innocence/cynicism collision seem fresh. Jake, unstreetwisely bookish, terminally earnest, reminds me of my nice, white friend on the National Book Critics Circle who watched Menace II Society and afterward asked a friend, "Hey, how come those two gang guys called each other 'Holmes'? I mean, what are the odds they're both named Holmes?" In scene after relentless scene--staged by inner-city emigre Fuqua without much rhythmic sense overall but with great feeling for lingo, place and pace--Denzel points out to Jake the horrors of the narc cop's beat. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Thin Blue Line
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.