“To protect the sheep, you gotta catch the wolf, and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf.” This questionable sentiment is how rogue LAPD detective Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) justifies a heavy laundry list of dirty deeds, scary volatility, sociopathic backstabbing and a complete disregard for the badge that he wears on a chain like dog tags. And indeed, inner city Los Angeles can seem like a war zone, but its like he’s in fact more part of the problem than the dark angel of justice he sees in himself. Antoine Fuqua’s combustible crime drama Training Day rightly won Washington an Oscar for his unsettling runaway train of a performance, and he owns it down to the last maniacal mannerism and manipulative tactic. The film takes place over one smoggy L.A. day (hence the title) that feels like an eternity for its two leads, as well as all the colorful and often terrifying people they meet along the yellow brick road that’s paved with used needles and shell casings. Harris is tasked with showing rookie cop Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) the ropes in his neighborhood, in the hopes that he’ll pass the test and achieve Narc status. Jake is prepared for a run of the mill crash course, but as soon as he’s treated to a verbal beatdown from Harris in the diner they meet at, he has a feeling it ain’t gonna be anywhere close to a normal day. This is just another day for Harris though, as he drags Hoyt by the scruff through drug busts, gang warfare, the worst neighborhood in town and pulls him deeper into his very dangerous world. Fuqua has a knack for getting the atmosphere of his settings just pitch perfect, and the feverish nightmare of the inner city comes alive, seemingly possessing the characters themselves until the atrocities just seem like a way of life. The trouble really starts when they run across Harris’s old drug lord buddy Roger (a wicked Scott Glenn in a role originally intended for Mickey Rourke), who proves a valuable asset later, though not in the way you might think. Harris introduces Jake to his equally crooked and scary team, including Peter Greene, Nick Chinlund and Dr. Dre who struggles in the acting department, especially in a room full of such heavy hitters. Jake is aghast at the horrors he sees and cannot believe the streets are like this. Harris devilishly assures him that this is the job, mutilating the symbol of his badge even more by justifying such behaviour as necessary. Tension reaches unbearable heights during a visit to a Latino gang household run by Cliff Curtis, Raymond Cruz and the eternally scary Noel Gugliemi. This is the heart of darkness fpr the film, a story beat from which there is seemingly no escape, until it becomes clear that Jake has somehow evolved a step up the food chain as far as LA goes, and is now ready to put down the dog who taught him, a dog who has long been rabid. People complain that the final act degenerates into a routine action sequence. Couldn’t disagree more. With a setup so primed with explosive conflict, it can’t end up anywhere else but an all out man to man scrap, which when followed by no flat out action sequences earlier in the film, hits hard. Their inevitable confrontation is a powerhouse, especially from Washington, who finally loses his composure and yowls like a trapped coyote, his actions caught up to him. In a role originally intended for Tom Sizemore (who would have rocked it in his own way) I’m glad Denzel got a crack at it, for he’s absolute dynamite. Watch for Harris Yulin, Raymond J. Barry and Tom Berenger as the three senior LAPD dick heads, Eva Mendes as Alonzo’s girlfriend, Macy Gray as a screeching banshee of a ghetto whore and Snoop Dogg as your friendly neighborhood wheelchair bound crack dealer. Fuqua keeps attention rooted on the dynamic between Washington and Hawke, who is excellent in as role that could have easily been swallowed up by Washington’s monster of of a performance. Hawke holds his own, and the film is really about how two very different guys view a difficult area of town, how it changes them both, and ultimately how their moral compasses end up on a collision course. One of the best crime framas out there, and quickly becoming timeless.