Hawke's performance is a very reactionary one for most of the film, as he reacts to Hoyt's "training" given to him by his corrupt superior Alonzo Harris (Washington). Hawke shows Hoyt at the beginning not to be overly naive, but possibly overly earnest in believing his new job to be some sort of dream position or at least much better than the nightmare it quickly becomes.What is effective about Hawke's performance is despite being in the face of Washington's very overactive performance, Hawke never overacts. He also never tries to make Hoyt some sort of great hero, just an honest person who actually just wants to do the right thing. Hawke best shows this by when Hoyt reacts to the various questionable actions by Alonzo. Hawke shows it through disbelief, more than anything else showing his inexperience, and lack of understanding of what truly goes on in his line of work.
Hawke effectively acts as the viewer's guide through the journey that Alonzo takes him through. Hawke has the creates the right amount of empathy for Hoyt, because he never turns Hoyt into more than Hoyt is. Hawke as well manages to stay realistic through the journey acting as a normal man would react to his various extreme situations he has to go through.Throughout the film though Hawke slowly develops Hoyt into a more hardened individual than he was at the beginning of the film. Hawke change is slow but natural change. How at first he cannot even believe what is happening to him, there is certain sickness that also prevails through him, and Hawke eventually shows that this leads to a resolve to do the right thing. This is good leading performance by Hawke, and is easy one to follow throughout his journey of the film.