Directors’ Trademarks: David Ayer


David Ayer began his movie career as a writer, recalling on his experiences in the Navy to write the script for U-571. He worked on several other scripts, including The Fast and The Furious, and Training Day. His feature debut as director was 2005’s Harsh Times, which wasn’t well received. His follow-up was Street Kings (2008), which featured a number of big-name actors, yet didn’t receive too much attention from audiences or critics. End of Watch (2012) is his most successful film to date. It was highly regarded by critics and fit in well with his style and proficiencies as a filmmaker. Ayer got a chance to work with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Sabotage (2014). That film was a bomb at the box office and received mixed reviews. His latest film, Fury hits theaters this week.

So the question posed is, if you are watching a David Ayer film and you don’t know it, what are the things to look for that would identify it as such? Here are five of Ayer’s trademarks as director, in no particular order:


Violence, Guts, and Gore


If you are faint of heart, easily disgusted, or don’t appreciate guts splattered all over the ceiling (see Sabotage), then you may not appreciate the lengths at which David Ayer’s films portray violence. Ayer’s films, above all, are known for their overly-gritty portrayal of reality. His films have a hard-knuckle perspective, and because of this, violence is common and very explicit. Unlike other filmmakers who use heaps of gore stylize their films (Tarantino), Ayer doesn’t revel in it. He uses it as a primary source of conflict and character development in his films, but never is it celebrated or twisted in such a way that the audience cheers it on. No, Ayer sprays blood on his viewers to make a point. Death, crime, betrayal, and murder are serious events and they should not be taken lightly.  


Vehicular Storytelling


 A common occurrence in an Ayer film is that a large portion of the film takes place in a moving vehicle. More importantly, scenes that are pivotal to character development happen inside the vehicle; while scenes that advance the plot happen outside the vehicle. These scenes of character development are usually dialogue scenes. In Harsh Times the car conversation is where Christian Bale’s character Jim discusses his past life in the armed forces. The climax of Sabotage features a pretty harrowing car scene, and End of Watch feels like it is mostly composed of the main characters driving around in their police car. This is also true for even the films he wrote but didn’t direct. Training Day features a lot of driving around with characters talking and the audience learning more about them. Do I really need to mention how this is true in The Fast and The Furious or U-571?


George RR Martin Syndrome


Do you find yourself admiring a character in a David Ayer film? Well, I’d hate to tell you this, but they will probably die, and not just at the end. David Ayer is not afraid of killing off his characters, and killing them off quickly. Sabotage starts off with a healthy collection of interesting faces, but their numbers are continuously decreasing. Furthermore, don’t bank on a main character, good or bad, making it all the way through just because they are featured prominently. End of Watch uses this strategy to pull at your heart strings and make a statement about putting one’s life on the line. In Street Kings death makes no distinction between those characters who are corrupt and those who are not, making survival on the streets seem more related to luck than cunning. 


Connections to LA


Ayer wasn’t born in LA, but he lived there as a teenager when he was kicked out of his parents’ house. That time of his life clearly influenced the types of stories that he tells in nearly all his films. All of the films he has written and directed so far (11) take place in LA except for U-571, Sabotage, and Fury. Not only do those films take place in LA, but they are focused on life in the streets. Ayer is not telling stories about effluent business men, or romantic Hollywood adventures. His stories focus on crime and law enforcement and that perspective comes from his own experiences. End of Watch takes this one step further by being presented as if it were a documentary. In a sense, Ayer is conveying the idea that what is happening in the film is REAL LA, not just a movie. This is what happens everyday.


Respect to Those Who Serve


While corruption among law enforcement is a common theme in Ayer’s films (Training Day, Street Kings) his message isn’t that the cops can’t be trusted. Instead, he is depicting the difficulties in such a job, and in doing so shows his respect for those who put their lives on the line for law and order. End of Watch might be the ultimate explanation of how difficult it is to be an officer on the streets of LA. The perspective of the film is that these are men trying to make a difference, and Ayer seems to respect that. In addition to officers engaged in preserving law and order, Ayer also has a lot to say about those who have served in the armed forces. For inspiration, he draws on his time in the US Navy, most obviously in U-571, but also in the fact that his characters are commonly ex-soldiers (Sabotage, Harsh Times). These characters are all deeply influenced by their time serving their country, and by telling their story, Ayer is noting the sacrifices they have made.  

Want more? Check out the last installment:

Directors’ Trademarks: David Fincher