John Hillcoat’s Triple 9 opens this Friday, and the fact that it’s not a David Ayer movie doesn’t stop it from being the best David Ayer movie since 2008. That’s not to say it’s necessarily a good movie, but it feels very much like one of Ayer’s testosterone-fueled explorations of man’s unstoppable pull towards violence.
So of course I came home and threw in Ayer’s 2008 gem, Street Kings. I don’t care what anyone says, this is fantastic goddamn entertainment. Thrilling action sequences, real suspense, and a strong cast (who occasionally chew the Los Angeles scenery) make it a fun descent into hero-cop hell. Having already seen the film multiple times I decided to check out Ayer’s commentary this time around. He’s no stranger to movies about the blue and the grey ‐ cops and fuzzy moralities ‐ having written and/or directed Training Day, Dark Blue, End of Watch, and Sabotage, but for my money his most consistently exciting and engaging film is Street Kings.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the Street Kings commentary.
Street Kings (2008)
Commentator: David Ayer (director)
1. The film was shot on Super 35mm. “With a frame like this you can really pack it full of imagery and find some interesting compositions.”
2. They used three Dodge Chargers for the film.
3. The film was originally titled The Night Watchman. It sounds almost like a horror movie, so the title change was probably smart.
4. He likes the opening misdirect that makes the film appear to be about another racist Los Angeles cop before revealing its true colors. “Tom Ludlow doesn’t really see the world through color. In his eyes you’re either good or bad.”
5. Keanu Reeves did all of his own stunts.
6. He knows you’re wondering how Ludlow knew the gun was in the couch after the opening gunfight. “Well ask a cop. The gun is always in the couch.”
7. Ayer makes a curious observation about actors hiding their accents for their roles while introducing Hugh Laurie. “It’s tough for him as an actor because so much energy and focus goes into maintaining an American accent that he has to be a little more on point, a little more focused on that. He can’t be as fancy free as someone speaking in their native accent.” This makes sense, I guess.
8. Ludlow’s girlfriend, Nurse Grace Garcia (Martha Higareda), was originally a reporter in James Ellroy’s initial script.
9. They took the Dodge Charger to a test track to record all manner of sounds ‐ engine revving, doors opening and closing, braking ‐ “so we had a really high quality sound library and it contributed quite a bit to the feel and mix of the movie.”
10. The scene where Ludlow meets his squad for lunch was filmed at L.A.’s Pacific Dining Car. They wouldn’t close the restaurant while they shot, so “people were walking through our set, trying to sit down.”
11. He recalls reading the script and being happily surprised by the turn where Ludlow’s vengeance mission against Det. Washington (Terry Crews) is interrupted by the two shooters sent to kill him. “I was caught unawares, and as a writer I’m supposed to catch this stuff ahead of time.”
12. Washington’s murder is a short sequence, but it took several days and set ups to shoot. It also necessitated extra safety precautions thanks to the numerous squibs and small explosions in a tight area. “The cameramen were wearing quilts and face shields.”
13. Former L.A. police Chief Daryl Gates cameos at Washington’s funeral, and Ayer says as a compliment that he “added an incredible sense of reality to the film.” This made me laugh seeing as Gates is best known as the face of an institution perceived throughout the ’80s and ’90s to be an abusive and corrupt force.
14. They shot in the L.A. County Morgue at night, “which was a little spooky.” The only additional set dressing they added were a couple additional blue lights. They’re bug zappers because the dead bodies sometimes have maggots and flies.
15. Ludlow and Det. Diskant (Chris Evans) have a brief altercation in a bathroom, and Ayer told Evans to throw an elbow Reeves’ direction but didn’t share that direction with Reeves. “Sometimes you gotta do sneaky stuff when you’re directing.”
16. The foot chase was filmed in a gang area, but they never had any problems during the shoot. “We were really open with the community, and we had an open set. We didn’t have security guards telling people to keep away. We let the kids in the neighborhood sort of walk through the set and look at the equipment and let people talk to us, and Keanu’s really open and really gracious and likes to hang out and talk to people. He’s not one of those guys who hides out in his trailer between takes.”
17. Ludlow beats Grill (The Game) with a phone book, and they used a foam prop for the scene. The Game had suggested they use a real one but quickly decided that wasn’t smart. “We tried it. One hit, and I think it rattled his gourd a little bit.”
18. Scribble’s (Cedric the Entertainer) Cadillac required mechanical work all through the night to get it running for its brief scene the next day.
19. Why is the shark dead? “The shark tank, what’s the shark tank about? Well, I figured Fremont and Coates are impulse buyers, and they got a lot of money, and they’re sort of high, and I figured they should have a shark, but uh, I guess they didn’t feed it.”
20. Ayer says real police officers often carry a spare handcuff key on their person “in case they get cuffed with their own handcuffs.”
Best in Context-Free Commentary
- “Ouch, that’s a smoker of a line.”
- “You can’t just walk in and kill someone. You have to have a reason you can articulate in court.”
- “No one said a gunfight had to be fair.”
- “You’d be surprised at the places film crews can get into.”
- “We put Chris Evans through window-breaking school.”
- “Cedric the Entertainer. That guy’s like a rock star down in the hood.”
- “Of course that’s a rubber finger. Forest [Whitaker] wouldn’t let us break his finger.”
Ayer is a dry speaker, but his appreciation for his cast and crew is clear. Equally apparent is his knowledge of police tactics, equipment, and mentalities, and he spends a substantial amount of time on those topics which don’t always make for the best quotes. His subsequent films, including End of Watch and Fury, gained him more critical acclaim, but this remains my favorite of his films. (A terrible direct-to-dvd and completely unrelated sequel followed, so don’t judge this by that.)