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The Films of David Ayer

Harsh Times

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Street Kings (April 6/08)

An entirely implausible yet undeniably entertaining thriller, Street Kings casts Keanu Reeves as Tom Ludlow - a grizzled, play-by-his-own-rules cop who's forced to go off the grid after he's implicated in the death of a fellow officer. Director David Ayer has infused the proceedings with a refreshingly tough-minded sensibility that proves instrumental in smoothing over some of the more overt deficincies within James Ellroy, Kurt Wimmer, and Jamie Moss' screenplay, and there's little doubt that Street Kings ultimately comes off as an irrisistible throwback to the unapologetically over-the-top actioners of the 1980s. As such, the movie is packed with convoluted twists and archetypal characters who speak primarily in clichés and metaphors (ie "you can't ride the tiger forever!") - yet such concerns are rendered moot thanks to the efforts of an exceptionally capable supporting cast that includes, among others, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie, and Chris Evans. And although the film's storyline might just be a little too plot-heavy for its own good - ie there are more than a few lulls in between the impressively brutal action sequences - Street Kings benefits substantially from the appreciatively old-school vibe emphasized by filmmaker Ayer (it's also difficult to discount the effectiveness of Reeves' work here, as the actor delivers as electrifying and flat-out compelling a performance as he's ever given).

out of

End of Watch (October 4/12)

A typically gritty effort from David Ayer, End of Watch details the exploits of two hotshot cops (Jake Gyllenhaal's Brian and Michael Peña's Mike) as they go about their day-to-day business patrolling the streets of Los Angeles. It's a fairly standard setup that is, at the outset, employed to better-than-anticipated effect by Ayer, as the writer/director does a nice job of initially establishing the central characters and their rough-and-tumble existence - with the compelling atmosphere heightened by the strong performances from both Gyllenhaal and Peña. Ayer's decision to continuously switch from Brian's first-person perspective (ie the character is shooting his on-the-job adventures for a school project) to an omniscient point-of-view tends to hold the viewer at arm's length, admittedly, as the pervasively jittery presentation is never not distracting and one ultimately can't help but wish that the filmmaker had utilized a more conventional visual sensibility. And although the film has been suffused with a number of memorable moments and sequences (eg Brian and Mike roll up on an attack on fellow officers), End of Watch's episodic narrative grows more and more wearying as time progresses (ie the movie often feels like a big-screen adaptation of Cops) - which does, as a result, ensure that the almost incongruously sensationalistic climax isn't quite able to pack the visceral punch that Ayer's clearly shooting for. The end result is a sporadically electrifying yet terminally uneven endeavor that works best as a showcase for its superb performances, as both Gyllenhaal and Peña manage to transform their respective characters into wholeheartedly compelling figures that wouldn't be unwelcome in another, better movie.

out of

Sabotage (August 10/14)

Sabotage follows a team of grizzled DEA agents (including Arnold Schwarzenegger's Breacher, Sam Worthington's Monster, and Josh Holloway's Neck) as they're methodically picked off one by one after a botched operation, with the movie detailing the survivors' efforts at discerning the identity of the individual behind the increasingly brutal killings. Filmmaker David Ayer has infused Sabotage with precisely the sort of gritty feel with which he's associated, and there's little doubt that the movie, in its early stages, comes off as an entertaining (yet decidedly silly) tough-guy action picture. It doesn't hurt, of course, that Ayer has stacked the film's cast with an assortment of appreciatively familiar faces, with Schwarzenegger's typically charming turn matched by a roster of supporting players that includes Terrence Howard, Joe Manganiello, and Mireille Enos. Problems ensue as it becomes more and more clear that virtually all of the movie's protagonists are unlikable, Type A blowhards, which ensures, to an increasingly confounding degree, that there's just nobody here to root for. (Even Schwarzenegger's hard-edged character is awfully difficult to sympathize with, ultimately.) The less-than-involving atmosphere is exacerbated by a narrative that is, more often than not, needlessly convoluted, and it's certainly a challenge to figure out the motivations of several key figures (ie why is the killer doing what he/she is doing?) By the time the anticlimactic, tacked-on finale rolls around, Sabotage has unquestionably confirmed its place as a disappointingly misguided actioner that could (and should) have been so much better.

out of

Fury (November 28/14)

Written and directed by David Ayer, Fury details the violent, perilous exploits of a six-man tank crew in the waning days of the Second World War. It's rather surprising to note that filmmaker Ayer has infused Fury with the feel of an old-school war epic, as the movie is noticeably lacking in many of the elements with which Ayer and many of his contemporaries have been associated - including needlessly shaky camerawork and rapid-fire editing during action sequences. There is, as a result, little doubt that Fury generally comes off as a far more engaging and entertaining endeavor than one might've expected - particularly in light of Ayer's disastrous previous effort, 2014's Sabotage - and it's clear that the film benefits substantially from the stellar work of its uniformly strong cast. Brad Pitt, cast as the aforementioned tank's commander, delivers a stirring, often electrifying performance that remains a high point throughout, while the supporting cast, which includes Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, and Jon Bernthal, effectively adds color and personality to the proceedings on a consistent basis. And although Ayer has peppered the narrative with a number of engrossing sequences - there is, for example, a tank battle that's nothing short of electrifying - Fury suffers from an erratic sense of momentum that ultimately diminishes its overall impact. The rough-cut feel is especially prominent in an oddball, almost stand-alone interlude around the midway point detailing two soldiers' encounter with a pair of German women, while the protracted finale, though sporadically exciting, ensures that the movie ends on a lamentably anticlimactic note - and yet, taken as a whole, it's impossible to deny that Fury comes off as a better-than-average war flick that almost demands a viewing on as big a screen as possible.

out of

Suicide Squad (October 10/16)

A rather aggressively unwatchable comic-book adaptation, Suicide Squad follows several criminals (including Will Smith's Deadshot, Jai Courtney's Captain Boomerang, Adam Beach's Slipknot, and Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn) as they're recruited by Viola Davis' Amanda Waller to stop a vengeful witch (Cara Delevingne's Enchantress) from destroying the world. It's worth noting that, despite its eventual spiral into absolute tedium, Suicide Squad actually fares surprisingly well in its opening stretch, as writer/director David Ayer offers up an energetic and almost impossibly fast-paced first act devoted entirely to the introduction of the story's many, many characters - with the unexpectedly watchable vibe heightened by a series of strong performances and a refreshing lack of over-the-top action sequences. (Those come later.) The movie's momentum takes a palpable and disastrous hit once the narrative proper comes into play, with the sharp-left turn into an Escape from New York-inspired second half triggering Suicide Squad's transformation into a distressingly misbegotten endeavor. It's not terribly difficult to pinpoint where Ayer goes wrong, as the hit-and-miss filmmaker delivers a midsection rife with dimly-lit and virtually incoherent action sequences - with the proliferation of such moments, coupled with a terminally overlong running time, paving the way for a repetitive, interminable final hour. By the time the typically overblown, special-effects-heavy climax rolls around, Suicide Squad has confirmed itself as one of the more memorably horrendous comic-book flicks to come around in quite some time. (It seems impossible but the movie fares worse than the reprehensible Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice!)

out of

© David Nusair