Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: R for extreme violence, nudity, language
Run Time: 1 hour, 56 minutes
Denzel Washington tears up the screen as the personification of corrupt evil in this gritty, stylish, day-in-the-life of LAPD’s finest.
It’s open season on misconduct for Alonzo Harris (Washington), a bad-ass, trash-talking narc determined to up the street IQ of his rookie partner, Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke). Hoyt’s assignment is to team with Alonzo on a task force created to combat the unchecked reign of dealers loose on the city’s mean streets. Drugs, firearms, and payoffs are all part of the day to day on this crazy new beat. Alonzo, head of an elite undercover narcotics squad, puts Jake through the paces of living on the edge with a badge. With his incessant hip patter and swaggering attitude, Alonzo is more than just a force to be reckoned with – he’s a legend in his own dangerous mind.
Cruising L.A.’s ugliest neighborhoods with his irrepressible sidekick, Jake is forced to adjust to a volatile code of behavior. Struggling to keep his morals intact, Jake is repeatedly encouraged to cross the ethical line. Get to know the streets, warns Alonzo – it’s the sheep versus the wolves.
Damned if Denzel doesn’t look like he’s gleefully relishing every sinister moment in the skin of his manic anti-hero. Clad in black leather and skullcap, Washington elevates his acting cred by pulling a thespian 180 - no more Mr. Nice Guy. (Do I hear Oscar calling?) Hawke plays the wet-behind-the-ears do-gooder with convincing aplomb, alluding to a river of strength flowing underneath his virtuous exterior.
Rough patches of violence, many of them graphic and difficult, give a dark-around-the-edges tone to this crisp, accomplished and remarkably powerful film.