‘Training Day’ – Film Review and Analysis

‘Training Day’ is the kind of movie that highlights two people who somehow cross paths as they are on opposite sides of morality. The men are shown to be both flawed in their own ways but still have a direct impact on each other as they spend more time together. Throughout this film, both men are trying to outwit each other in the hopes that they’ll come out on top. Because of this gamesmanship, this is no simple training day but rather a series of events that end up changing both of their lives for better and for worse.

The two main characters, one of them who could be considered a youthful idealist, is trying to better his community and his city by enforcing the law by the book. The other man has been around the block and knows about the grittiness of the job more so than his impressionable, younger rookie partner. He is a pessimist who discards the idealism that he likely brought with him when he originally joined the police force. He has abused his power as a law enforcement agent, is looking to maintain his authority and grow his wealth through intimidation and threats.

“It takes a wolf to catch a wolf” is a powerful quote from ‘Training Day’ that shows that in order to bring somebody down, you have to act and imitate who they are. The problem with this attitude is that sometimes you end up becoming your own worst enemy. However, to simply be a sheep is leading yourself to the slaughter as well especially when you’re dealing with the criminal underworld.

In order to survive as a detective, both men know that you need to be confident in yourself, steadfast in your beliefs, and willing to confront ‘the wolves’ out there if you want to catch one. It could be argued that the protagonist of this film starts out as a sheep and ends up becoming a wolf in order to catch the antagonist, a true wolf who has caught the wolves for many years. This kind of symbolism embedded within ‘Training Day’ makes it a classic film worthy of repeated viewings.

‘Training Day’, released in 2001 is a crime drama / thriller directed by Antoine Fuqua which follows two LAPD detectives who patrol and fight crime in gang-heavy neighborhoods. The film stars Denzel Washington as Alonzo Harris, a veteran detective and police officer who prefers wearing street clothes over a formal uniform and a badge. Ethan Hawke, who plays Jake Hoyt, a new detective and Alonso’s new partner who is entrusted in learning from Alonzo on his first day of detective training.

This film has earned excellent reviews over the years and is considered one of the best movies of the 2000’s. It achieved critical acclaim and success in theaters as Denzel Washington earned a Best Actor award for his role as Alonzo Harris. Truly, one of the best parts of the film is Washington’s acting and how he brings the corrupt yet smooth talking cop character to life. Det. Harris is a classic villain who ranks as one of the best antagonists in film history for his duplicity to others and displaying his indefatigable charisma while doing it.

From the opening scene of the movie, you can tell that Jake Hoyt is out of his league when it comes to matching up against Alonzo Harris. Unfortunately, not much of Alonso or Jake’s backstory is given in the film as well as how they came to become partners together. However, you can see early they are both polar opposites of each other in terms of their ideals, morals, and overall character. Jake is a young guy who’s trying to make his mark as a police officer and trying to do everything by the book as instructed by his superiors at the academy.

He is idealistic, fair-minded, and perhaps a bit naïve to the murky shades of gray that make up the world. Meanwhile, the audience can tell that Alonso has been on the wrong side of the streets for a while and has become purely jaded by his work as a narcotics detective. Instead of serving and protecting the people in his community and city, he cares only about his image, the reach of his authority, and the ability to make illegal money without compromising his career. What once was left of the idealism and the drive to do good by becoming a police officer has long been washed away. You could argue that Jake is a sheep while Alonso is a wolf who is going to prey on him.

The ultimate goal of Alonso is to bend Jake to his will by manipulating his moral code and his willingness to stay clean as a police officer. While Jake starts out the film as being a bit reticent, gullible, and naïve to what Alonso is doing to him, he is able to change over the course of the film to fight for his future, his career, and his life. The transformation of Jake Hoyt from a ‘sheep’ to a ‘wolf’ able to stand up to Alonso is one of the greatest displays of character development in film.

The great drama of ‘Training Day’ is to see both men push each other to the limits both mentally and physically to see who will be left standing after the training day and night is over. While Alonso lost his soul and is trying to corrupt those around him, Det. Jake Hoyt needs to harness his strengths, moral fiber, and intelligence to best Alonso at his own game.

At first, Alonso seems like an ideal partner to be with if you are in the police force. However, Jake and the audience find out that he is anti-social, manipulative, and willing to take what he wants without remorse. The challenge throughout the film for Jake is how does he change into a ‘wolf’ without losing his own moral code. Complicating matters for Detective Hoyt is the fact that Alonso isn’t the only corrupt police officer to deal with and that it goes to higher levels in both local and state government who know what Alonso is up to.

While some officials turn a blind eye to Alonso’s money-grabbing, wrongful beatings and killings, and others in the police force actually join in on it, Jake takes a moral stand and wants to bring Alonso to justice. However, we find out that Alonso is in fact his own worst enemy and the bad karma that he’s acquired over his years of corrupt wheeling and dealing will come back to haunt him.

Everyone’s luck eventually runs out and Alonso finds himself on the wrong end of a bad gambling streak with organized crime. For all of his manipulation, wrongdoing, and anti-social behavior, its’ Alonso’s desire for control over others including Jake that leads himself to ruin. To the opposite, Jake becomes a stronger person and a more effective police officer as the film progresses. He stops two men on the street from physically abusing a high school girl, which pays off for him later after he faces another near fatal betrayal from Alonso.

The concept of karma plays out for Jake, as he is able to resist the corrupting influence of Alonso and remain on the right side of the law by doing his job even under great personal pressure. Instead of letting the power and authority entrusted in him get to his head, Jake is able to become not just a better police officer than Alonso by the end of the film but a better human being.

While Alonso wasn’t always a corrupt cop, ‘Training Day’ makes you wonder what could have happened to this man to turn him into what he was originally fighting against. Overall, this movie is a morality tale of two men who have different intentions when it comes to being a police officer, which puts them at odds with each other. Their impression of the other man continually changes as they learn more about who exactly is the ‘sheep’ and who is the ‘wolf’ as their training day plays out.

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‘Batman Begins’ – Film Review and Analysis

I know what you may be thinking as you read out loud the title of this blog post. You’re probably wondering why I would choose to review and analyze a movie based off a super hero from a comic book series. It may appear to be juvenile but I made this creative choice for a couple of good reasons.

  1. Batman is not just any super hero. He is often ranked as being the most popular and well-known super hero worldwide up there with Superman or the ‘Man of Steel.’
  2. Batman isn’t your traditional super hero to make a movie about due to the fact that he has no super powers, and is an ordinary man who strives to be extraordinary.

A superhero who has been around since the early days of comic books in the early 1930’s, Batman is a popular cultural figure who until the 2000’s came around was never done justice on the silver screen. I remember as a kid watching the overly cartoonish and god-awful early film adaptations such as ‘Batman Forever’ and ‘Batman and Robin.’ The best film up until ‘Batman Begins’ was Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’, released in 1989, and even that movie was a bit goofy and contrived at times. Luckily, Batman on film earned a well-needed revival due to the masterful directing, screenwriting, and casting for Batman Begins, which was released over a decade ago in 2005.

Christopher Nolan, who directed Batman Begins, and helped to write the screenplay, did an amazing job in bringing Batman to life again as a superhero that comes from a realistic setting. Compared to The Avengers or X-Men, this is as close to reality as a superhero film can get. Compared to all of the comic book movies I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a good amount, ‘Batman Begins’ is the most realistic. It never gets too fanciful, and it takes itself seriously as a film that falls under the ‘drama’ genre.

For those readers who are unfamiliar with the origins of Batman, ‘Batman Begins’ does a great job of setting up the rise of this super hero from his childhood to his 30th birthday. You can see how much Bruce Wayne evolves into the role of the masked dark knight due to the painful tragedy that befalls him at an early age.

Bruce Wayne is a boy who grew up with everything a child could ask for: a loving family, a safe home, and a bright future. He has it all taken away from him when his parents are gunned down in front of him by one of the people they were trying to help. The Wayne family comes from immense wealth and they are tied to Gotham City through the generations. The Wayne’s are great benefactors to the city and try to help it out financially so that citizens can gain economic opportunities even during hard times.

The death of Bruce Wayne’s parents is the true beginning of his path to becoming Batman. This film does a great job in showing the phases that Bruce goes through after suffering a trauma such as the loss of his closest family members: his mother and his father. For many years, Bruce turns his deep-seated emotions onto blaming himself to feel the full guilt, the relentless anger, and the deep sadness fully. He is unable to use those powerful emotions, and turn them into constructive action.

An ever-present theme throughout ‘Batman Begins’ is Fear. As a young child, Bruce fell into a deep well near his parents’ mansion, and was unable to get himself out after experiencing a wave of bats surrounding him as they flew away into the sunlight. During an opera performance one night, young Bruce asks his father if they can leave the theater for a little while because he is frightened by the performers pretending to be bats in one of the play’s acts. Because of this fateful decision, for many years, Bruce blames himself completely for his parents’ death because they ended up being shot and killed by the mugger, Joe Chill, after Bruce asked them to leave the theater, and head into the nearby alley.

Bruce seeks out vengeance against the man who killed his parents and wishes to kill Mr. Chill as he leaves the courthouse. He buys a gun one day and wants to take justice into his own hands like a vigilante. Before he is able to do the grisly deed, Joe Chill is killed by one of Carmine Falcone’s men, a Gotham City mob boss. Although Mr. Falcone didn’t kill Bruce’s parents, the corruption befalling the city’s institutions, the unrelenting crime wave, and the lack of a respectable police force have led to more injustice than ever that has left Gotham City a shell of what it used to be.

One of the best scenes of ‘Batman Begins’ highlights the fact that Bruce has more to lose than he knows and should protect the people he cares about. He decides to use Batman as more than just a man flying around in a cape, but more as a symbol to be feared by criminals everywhere, and that anybody can become Batman if they have the will to act. Bruce is wise to use his fear of Bats and turn that fear into a powerful symbol, which criminals will one day fear themselves.

Despite the personal tragedy that befell him, men like Carmine Falcone lecture the young Bruce Wayne regarding his naivety about the world. “You always fear what you don’t understand”, and “people from your world have so much to lose.” Before becoming Batman, Bruce decides to travel the world, learn about the psychology of criminals, train himself in various martial arts, and harness the power of stealth to strike fear into the hearts of Gotham’s underbelly.

In order to learn fully about the evils of the world, Bruce has to go out there himself to experience what actually drives criminals to do what they do. He has to push himself physically and mentally in order to be able to stop them. In order to become Batman, he has to develop a strong moral code so that he can be incorruptible, and more than just a vigilante taking justice into his own hands. In this film, Batman doesn’t kill and he desires to make sure that all criminals face true justice to prove that it’s more than just vengeance for him.

In order to fully develop into Batman, he must complete his training under the tutelage of Henri Ducard (played brilliantly by Liam Neeson). Henri and Bruce have both suffered personal tragedies at the hands of ruthless criminals, but they decide to use their anger and pain to motivate them to strengthen, develop, and confront their adversaries whomever they may be. Bruce becomes Ducard’s best student and excels in different areas of physical and mental training. As Ducard imparts on Wayne, “Your training is nothing, the will is everything. The will to act.”

Batman Begins does an excellent job of showing the physical dexterity and the mental will needed to become a hero like Batman. In addition to that, the training scenes are spectacular in highlighting how Bruce must use deception, theatricality, and stealth in order to overcome his enemies with fear. Most similarly, he must play the role of an actual ninja. “In order to manipulate the fear in others, you must first master the fear within yourself.”

Batman is a symbol that cannot be bought off, corrupted, or killed. Ducard reminds Bruce Wayne of the fact, “If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can’t stop you…you become something else entirely…A legend, Mr. Wayne.” However, Ducard and Wayne have a fundamental difference of belief regarding the nature of criminals that puts them on an adversarial footing with each other, which leads to an inevitable confrontation later on. Bruce desires to bring criminals to justice but with the support of the police and the criminal justice system. On a fundamental level, he wants to uphold the institutions of Gotham City to be free of corruption in all of its’ forms.

We find out that Mr. Ducard is no fan of granting any leniency to criminals and wants them to be punished without any hesitation or limits. For Ra’s al-Ghul, Henri Ducard, and the rest of the League of Shadows, an organization that helped train Bruce Wayne to become Batman, crime cannot be tolerated and that criminals thrive when societies indulge themselves by not having them pay the ultimate price of death. Even if the criminal is a despicable murderer, Bruce still believes in the rule of law, wants them to be tried in a fair court, and does not desire to become a singular executioner.

Batman wants to save Gotham City in the right way even though he finds it to be an almost insurmountable task given the lack of allies he has. However, he discovers that he has help with the incorruptible Officer James Gordon of the Gotham City Police Department and his friend, Rachel Dawes, a district attorney who won’t be bought off.

Batman comes up against another villain who desires to strike fear into the heart of Gotham’s citizenry: The Scarecrow (played by Cillian Murphy) who uses fear toxin gas to poison people, and make them do horrible things to each other out of their fear of each other. Bruce Wayne must lead a double life, keep his secret safe, weed out corruption, and be able to combat two villains who use fear to prey on the fearful (Scarecrow and Ra’s al-Ghul).

Instead of using fear against the citizens of Gotham, Batman uses his terrifying appearance to strike fear into the hearts of criminals and villains everywhere. While he understands that justice is never ensured for all criminals, he does not want to be a murderer himself who decides the fate of all those enemies he fights and stops.

‘Batman Begins’ is a deep superhero movie that asks some philosophical and psychological questions regarding the nature of true justice, and how far individuals and a collective society should go in order to stop crime. The film also probes the feeling of ‘fear’ and how a person can master their own fear in order to become mentally and physically stronger.

Christopher Nolan asks the question of how do we control our own fear and keep it from controlling us. Batman is a flawed superhero, but he is able to control his fear to become a legend. His symbolism helps Gotham City to rise up against corruption, crime, and to fight injustice. While he is only just a man without any real superpowers, he is able to inspire others to fight the good fight with his moral example.

In a movie where there’s not much hope, the Batman inspires others to believe in themselves and their city again. He is a regular man, driven into action after going through a terrible tragedy. Instead of being broken by what happened to him at a young age, he uses his pain and sorrow to motivate himself so that others don’t suffer the same kind of tragedy in life of losing a loved one. As a superhero and as a film character, Batman sets himself up as an example to follow for the audience even if it is a fictional story.

Making a super hero film is an extremely difficult process, which is why director Christopher Nolan should be given a lot of credit. Mr. Nolan has directed a lot of great films including Inception and Interstellar. Batman Begins is the first of three movies in the Dark Knight film series, and it may be the most underrated of them all. He and his team did a great job of bringing this character back onto the big screen in a big way.

It’s a realistic take on the Batman, and its’ a film franchise that has produced three excellent, unique films. For myself and many other fans, Batman Begins is more than just a simple superhero movie. It is a morality tale about hope overcoming fear, how to overcome adversity to become a stronger person, and how to set an example for others to follow in your footsteps.

Batman has survived in our popular culture for so long because you get the sense that he is a relatable character for many people despite the fiction behind it. Ultimately, he is a man who has his strengths, his weaknesses, yet he is ultimately fallible. Still though, he is a powerful individual that strives to fight for justice, hope, and wants to bring the best out of others. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to become a superhero like Batman to emulate those characteristics. You just have to do the right thing and be a good person.

Book Recommendations – Volume I

As the Fall season turns into Winter and people start going into hibernation mode as the weather gets cold and snowy, here is my 1st volume of book recommendations that will last you through the next few months:

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 1.) Catch 22 by Joseph Heller is my favorite book of all-time and has been ever since I read it at the young age of 16. This was the first novel that I had read which was satirical in content and utilized the concept the dark humor, which made it an enjoyable and fun read. Main characters such as Yossarian, Orr, Chaplain, Nately, Snowden, etc. were all really well-developed so you know who they were and their individual backgrounds before the end of the novel. It did help that for the first part of the book, each of the first eleven chapters were told from a different character’s perspective rather than focusing on Capt. John Yossarian for every chapter.

Describing the events from different points of view through the third-person in a non-chronological order really made it unique in a way. This made Catch-22 an easier read as this kind of format gave me as the reader the chance to put the different events together into a singular plotline rather than spell it all out for me as other non-fiction novels usually do. This novel also introduced to me several important themes that I have thought about or come into conflict with in my own life. Examples of some of these themes being: Absurdity, ridiculousness of bureaucracy, questioning one’s religious faith, and the power, influence of greed and capitalism over others.

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2.) Freedom by Jonathan Franzen is another favorite and an excellent fiction novel focusing on an American family, the Berglund’s, and the complex relationships that they have with each other, their friends, and their lovers. Their story takes place over the course of one generation from the late 1970’s up until the beginning year of the Obama administration, in 2009. Each family member is well represented in Franzen’s novel with the narrative flow going from Walter (the father) to Patty (the mother), and then on to the children of Joey and Jessica. Franzen also develops his supporting characters to be an integral part of the story such as Richard Katz, Lalitha, Connie, and Jenna who all play a role in the unfolding of the novel. Freedom also successfully goes back and forth from first-person to third-person narrative quite easily and without any major hiccups.

One of my favorite things about this novel is that incorporates into the plot the major events in American history and society that have happened over the past generation. Examples of these events in the book include the burgeoning environmentalist movement, 9/11, the Iraq war, and the rise of social media. I believe Franzen does a great job of bringing out the peculiarities and absurdities that encompasses American suburban life and he really shows you how the family changes over the years due to these outside events but also the changing relationships that mark these people’s lives. A fascinating novel overall, I highly recommend it.

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3.) The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer is my favorite non-fiction novel and a book that should be read by any American who wants to understand the current state of our society, culture and our politics. Packer is an excellent reporter for The New Yorker who previously wrote a book about the struggles of the U.S. endeavor in Iraq in The Assassin’s Gate. Packer got the inspiration for writing this novel after he comes home from Iraq and witnesses the 2008 financial crisis and the collapse of the markets. Along with the auto industry, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, he realizes that the major institutions that have held America together with a sense of unity were falling all around him. The author does an excellent job of focusing on three ordinary Americans and detailing their personal history from the beginning of ‘The Unwinding’ in the late 1970’s up until the 2012 election.

These three people are Dean Price, a struggling tobacco farmer in North Carolina who wants to revitalize the farmland by providing biofuel to school buses; Tammy Thomas, a black woman from Youngstown, Ohio who becomes a community organizer after losing her job multiple times from the closure of the factory plants along this rust belt city; and Jeff Connaughton, who comes to Washington as a staffer for Senator Joe Biden but becomes disillusioned by the lobbying, big finance levers that are pulling the strings of our politicians and leaders. One of my favorite things about this book is that Packer contrasts these three ordinary Americans with the giants of American pop culture, politics, music, and society by giving brief chapters devoted to the success of individuals of Oprah, Peter Thiel, Sam Walton, Jay-Z, Newt Gingrich, Alice Waters, etc. A must read in my opinion.

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4.) The Social Animal by David Brooks is another great non-fiction novel that I have read and re-read over the past couple of years. Out of all the books on this list, it has probably influenced me the most as a person. I usually disagree with Brooks’ op-ed columns in The New York Times due to his conservative leanings but when it comes to sociology, human psychology and understanding the sub-conscious, Brooks has done the research and it really shows through in this book. The most fascinating aspect of this book is how he sets it up as a fictional novel with a male and a female character named Harold and Erica respectively.

Mr. Brooks uses a lot of recent research and findings to assert conclusions and summaries while charting an imaginary course for these two characters’ lives from Birth/Early Life to Death. My favorite chapter of the book and an area that relates to me personally is when Brooks describes the recent phenomenon of ‘The Odyssey Years’ or a person’s twenties where they are deciding what to do with career, marriage, and whether or not to have children. Brooks contrasts the ‘On The Road’ vs. ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ type of lifestyles that young people often choose between as they come out of the Odyssey years. He details the differences of how to live such as ‘Single v. Married’ and decides its better for a person to establish roots in a community rather than going from place to place indefinitely. He makes a compelling argument using recent research for explaining what molds us into who we become in each major stage of our lives.

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5.) A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn should be mandatory reading for any high school student in America who’s enrolled in a U.S. history class. Unfortunately, it wasn’t required reading for me in my Advanced Placement course which was a shame. Luckily, I was able to read it during my senior year of high school when a family member recommended the book to me and left me with a copy. The lasting appeal of Zinn’s novel is that unlike many other history books, it deals with the lives of ordinary Americans struggling through the different, tumultuous periods of our short history and the author does an excellent job of relying upon interviews, data, and statistics to give their side of the story.

Learning about the struggles of the Native Americans, the Women’s Rights movement, Civil Rights movement and other marginalized Socialists and Labor Rights activists like Eugene V. Debs was illuminating for millions of readers and myself. If only more politicians and the elite would read Zinn’s words, perhaps we as Americans would learn not to repeat the mistakes of the past and truly realize the notion of “Equality for all.” Lastly, one chapter of A People’s History that I continue to believe is very prescient even today is titled, “The Coming Revolt of The Guards” where Zinn hints at the discontent of American society even back in the early 2000’s due to the collapse of organized labor, growing wealth inequality, and the marginalization of the poor. Even though it’s a non-fiction book rooted in the past, Mr. Zinn had a lot of words of warning for our collective future.