When Antoine Fuqua Brought 'Training Day' to Toronto

Photofest
Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua on the set of 2001's 'Training Day.'

Fifteen years ago this week, the 'Magnificent Seven' helmer brought the thriller to the festival just days before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Exactly 15 years to the day after Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua debuted Training Day at the Toronto Film Festival, the pair are back with The Magnificent Seven, a remake of the 1960 Western that serves as this year’s fest opener.

Spirits were sky-high following the well-received Sept. 7, 2001, screening of the intense, dirty-cop drama, which follows a ride-along-from-hell for young L.A. police officer Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) and his evaluator, veteran detective Alonzo Harris (Washington). During the course of a single day, Alonzo forces Jake to smoke PCP-laced weed; lets a rapist go free; uses a fake search warrant to rob a drug dealer; and pays a gang member to murder the rookie cop.

In its review, The Hollywood Reporter called it “a sterling example of how to cover familiar territory … and make it crackle with vitality.” And: "The results are electrifying." Warner Bros. was confident it had a hit on its hands.

But then something unspeakable happened: Four days later, the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington were struck by passenger jets in coordinated attacks planned and executed by al-Qaida. The events of Sept. 11 threw Toronto into panic and pandemonium.

For the first time in its 26-year history, the festival, which was scheduled to run until Sept. 15, ground to a halt. “We’re all in shock. I don’t know when business as usual will resume,” then-festival director Piers Handling told reporters at a hastily convened news conference.

Trauma response teams were brought in to counsel anyone overcome with fear or grief. Lines to attend screenings were diverted to new lines queued outside blood banks. All flights were canceled and the U.S.-Canada borders closed, leaving such festivalgoers as Debra Winger, Ben Kingsley and Ben Affleck stranded.

With 72 police officers and 343 firefighters killed in the attacks, the timing could not have been worse for a film like Training Day. Warners responded by delaying the film’s planned Sept. 22 premiere by two weeks.

But audiences clearly were in the mood for something dark: The pic made $22.6 million in its opening weekend ($30.7 million today), an October record for the studio, and went on to gross $77 million domestically ($105 million today). It also earned Washington his second Oscar. 

comments powered by Disqus