Antagonists are what primarily drive the conflict of a story. It’s nearly impossible to have an intriguing or compelling story without conflict and roadblocks along the way. Crafting a great antagonist may seem like an impossible task, especially for a novice screenwriter.
Thankfully, there are plenty of great antagonists to analyze, including the 2001 film Training Day. Directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by David Ayer, Training Day stars Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, and Eva Mendes. The story follows a rookie cop who spends his first day as a Los Angeles narcotics officer with a rogue detective who isn't what he appears to be.
Any story that focuses on a character that isn’t who they appear to be made for a fascinating examination in the screenplay format. Nevertheless, below will highlight the antagonists of Training Day, how the story doesn’t rely on a typical antagonist, and what to take from it.
Still from 'Training Day'. Photo credit: Deadline
Although initially not presented as an antagonist, Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) is the central antagonist and conflict for Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke). Alonzo has sunk to the opposite of his line of work in that he has not only corrupted himself but attempts to corrupt those around him.
Alonzo’s motivation is primarily fueled by a debt he owes to the Russian Mob, and he is willing to do anything to repay his debt. Although he initially appears as a fierce cop looking to serve justice, Alonzo is revealed to be an even more significant threat to the safety of the ordinary individual than any drug dealer they initially meet.
Before fully discovering who Alonzo is, his actions go against the basic fundamentals of living as a decent human being. He refers to people on the street as animals, misrepresents them with fake search warrants, forces Jake to smoke drugs, is selfish, arrogant, and only cares for himself. Alonzo isn’t afraid to throw away allies as long as it benefits him—the worst kind of antagonist.
Drug Dealers and Addicts
The original antagonists are presented as cliches before the audience gets a true sense of who Alonzo is as a character. Drug dealers, addicts, and the usual crime from the streets is the initial conflict Jake has to deal with upon his training day. The best example is when Jake notices a pair of addicts attempting to assault a teenage girl in an alley after paying a visit to Roger.
Jake intervenes while Alonzo watches, and although the girl leaves and Alonzo scares the addicts off, the display shows Jake wants nothing more than to do what’s right. Although the scene ends up benefitting Jake after Smiley decides not to kill him (since it was his cousin he saved), it gives us an initial representation of the two characters.
There are plenty of other minor characters who present an initial bit of conflict but aren’t significant story factors. For example, after the two apprehend a dealer named Blue (Snoop Dogg), they focus on his employer Kevin "Sandman" Miller. The latter we initially expect to be the central antagonist.
The Three Wise Men
After Alonzo steals money from Sandman’s house, the broader scope of antagonists is introduced with the three wise men. The three wise men are a trio of corrupt high-ranking police officials, demonstrating a significant representation of corruption in the police force than just Alonzo.
The trio initially tells Alonzo to skip town since the Russian Mafia is hunting him, but instead, Alonzo’s natural narcissism comes into play, claiming he has everything in control. From a story perspective, the trio isn’t in the way of Jake but presents a deepened layer of why Alonzo is the way he is.
The Russian Mafia
From Alonzo’s perspective, the true antagonist of the story is the Russian mafia. After all, Alonzo technically wouldn’t need to go to the extent he needed to go through if he didn’t owe them a million dollars for the man he killed. As an audience, we understand that the Russian mafia falls under my enemy’s enemy is my friend category.
The Russian mafia isn’t a direct threat to Jake and his story. It’s just a reason to explain Alonzo’s actions and why he carries them out to the extent he does. We would’ve gotten a different story unless Jake chose to help Alonzo instead of standing up to his wrongdoings. Instead, the Russian mafia would’ve been the central focus as the antagonist.
The Use Of An Antagonist Reveal
Training Day’s biggest strength is its ability to craft a great story, with one of the main characters being the antagonist without it being revealed right away. In most stories, we get a sense of who is good and bad reasonably early on. Instead, the film showcases a character who has some likable traits initially, only to be revealed as one of the worst kinds of people.