Training Day masquerades as a thriller about the extremes of police corruption, and the line between practical and theoretical justice, but is really about Denzel Washington's seductive power over the film's characters, and the theatre's audience.
Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) is a rookie cop looking to make more money to support his family by applying to Alonzo Harris's (Denzel Washington) NARC squad. The film follows the single day Jake has to show his worth. While dangling the prospect of promotion, Alonzo forces Jake to jump through increasingly corrupt hoops.
Jake has an unwavering belief in the justice system, while Alonzo believes in results. Much of the film is their debate in Alonzo's car. We see close-ups of Alonzo's eyes, then close-ups of Jake's eyes. It's an intimate discussion of right/wrong, as Alonzo attempts to convince Jake that only the corrupt can be trusted.
Denzel Washington has a sinewy sexuality to his performances. He can be funny, charismatic, and endearing without compromising his strength. This is a rare quality, and if you saw his composed, confident walk to receive his Oscar for this role in 2001 it was apparent this quality has nothing to do with acting. In a film where Hawke's protagonist is the supporting role, Denzel's antagonist is the lead because we never stop watching him. His passionate speeches are to Jake's sensibilities and our own, as he charms us to suspend disbelief in this film's reality.
The moment Washington leaves the screen the plot turns, and turns hard. Writer/producer (Fast and Furious scribe) David Ayer didn't write the role for Washington, so could not see what his film, with Denzel, had become. The turn decides your outlook on the movie. Either Denzel charmed you enough to survive 15 minutes without him, or he didn't.