The Training Day Moment That Won Denzel Washington an Oscar

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There’s nothing more dangerous or unpredictable than a clean cop. But like Lucifer looking to close the deal with Faust, there’s always a different tact. Alonzo apologizes for the “ugly” realities of the real world, even as he explains, “You gotta have a little dirt on you for anybody to trust you.”

Alonzo has been trying to besmudge the narcotics team applicant from the moment Jake showed up for work, but the move had been in play long before that. The “Zig Zag” man makes Jake smoke a bowlful of some mean green with a PCP sheen while cutting off four lanes of traffic (with a non-verbal service revolver retort for anyone complaining of delays).

Alonzo proceeds to get Jake to drink on the job, question his marital fidelity, conduct a search with a takeout menu passing for a warrant, and endure several unnecessary beatings. It is a grooming process, which is wasted on the stubborn youth.

The entire operation, as we come to learn, is to make a score and retain control of the streets. This is a team effort, and everyone has to take one for the team. Peer pressure is a hell of a thing to throw at an aspiring, professional underling, and the Satanic sergeant tosses it like salad in a three-course meal: Do the drugs, take the money, own the streets.

When the rookie narc wannabe breaks a chain of command, which has been handed down by the three Wise Men themselves, Alonzo plays god, the serpent and the King of Kongs to bring the sheep back into the fold. His unholy commandments are set in concrete. The two-man dialogue in the below scene is a diabolically convincing breakdown of common sense coppery. Jake sees Roger (Scott Glenn), the ex-cop and now ex-person left on the floor of the raid, as Alonzo’s friend who the superior killed “like a fly.” But the veteran drug cop knew Roger as “the biggest major violator in Los Angeles,” who he watched “operate with impunity for over 10 years.” Alonzo believes his justifications. “This is the game. I’m playing his ass. That’s my job. That’s your job.”

With this, Alonzo lays it out bluntly, plainly and without room for misinterpretation: Detective Harris is a master ass player, a virtuoso of undercover infiltration. The audience knows Jake has been played as expertly as Roger. Manipulated like some figure on a checkerboard square. Washington sells this idea completely. We do not doubt his sincerity, as evil as the concept is. The character is slick, a little intimidating, and an irresistibly magnanimous prince of a guy. But the actor has one extra weapon in his arsenal, and it is hardly concealed.

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