Directed by Antoine Fuqua, starring Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Scott Glenn, Tom Berenger, Cliff Curtis, Dr Dre, Macy Gray and Snoop Dogg.

'Training Day' starts off with nervy rookie cop Jake Hoyt (Hawke) waking up, breakfasting with his wife and child before he sets off for a day in the company of an older, experienced narcotics agent. The purpose of the exercise is, we soon learn, to ascertain whether or not Hoyt can cut it as an agent on the mean streets of LA. Instinctively, one begins to fear yet another buddy-buddy cop film, with the usual clichéd carousel of initial animosity, surviving a mire of adversity and emerging as trusted friends. Well, rest assured, because 'Training Day' is definitely not a tired cop movie.

Hoyt's day is to be spent in the company of Detective Sergeant Alonzo Harris (Washington) who, as Hoyt soon finds out, talks, walks and acts more like the criminals he deals with than those in the force he works with. Hell, he even dresses like the bad guys – black clothes, dark sunglasses, headgear and lots of jewellery. Alonzo's method of testing rookies is to throw them in at the deep end without delay. Thus the morning is spent cruising through some of LA's meanest districts while, on Alonzo's insistence, Hoyt is forced to smoke highly illegal narcotics, drink beer and, in the process, destroy every shred of his own credibility in the event of any drug tests. Alonzo even stands by while his younger colleague almost gets trashed in an encounter with two would-be rapist junkies. Gradually, and with a sense of increasing unease about what's to come, Hoyt begins to question the methods of his trainer. Up to this point, 'Training Day' is very entertaining, especially in the rapid-fire dialogue between Washington and Hawke. So far, so good. Then, a rare thing happens; the film gets even better.

Crucially, a pacy opening to the film doesn't impinge on the contrast that is drawn between the characters. Director Antoine Fuqua keeps his foot firmly on the gas in the latter half but he wisely drags the movie into murkier territory as we are propelled into the black core of corruption that lies at the heart of 'Training Day'. Perhaps the most impressive achievement of the film (and there are many), is its success in presenting the deeply-complex character of Alonzo Harris in such a way that the audience can retain a modicum of empathy with him despite his cold, calculating and downright criminal modus operandi. Having long ago lost sight of the fine line between legality and corruption, Alonzo's tragedy lies in his insistence on inveigling idealistic and wide-eyed rookies into his corrupt schemes not only for his own benefit, but because he genuinely believes he is equipping them with the necessary skills for the most important thing: survival.

While the script, set-pieces and roomy direction of 'Training Day' are all top notch, it's difficult to imagine the film being the quality two hours it unarguably is without the performances of the two leads. Denzel Washington is simply riveting as the ruthlessly intimidating Alonzo, investing the character with a mesmerising mix of charismatic cool, in-your-face attitude and – a departure for Washington – menacing malevolence. Yet while most critics have chosen to highlight Washington's performance as the standout, it would be unfair not to mention Ethan Hawke, who plays the rookie Hoyt with a perfect patina of guileless enthusiasm, under which lies a surprisingly steely resolve.

All in all, with blistering pace, tour-de-force acting and terrific entertainment, this provides one hell of a day out.

Tom Grealis