Street Kings with David Ayer

For the novelist James Ellroy, the sunny exterior of Los Angeles will never shed enough light to illuminate the darkest parts of itself. In the City of Angels, moral codes designed to govern are difficult to uphold-especially by those determined to harm and protect us.

With “Street Kings,” David Ayer, one of LAs native sons, wields his camera onto the streets that are not found on picture postcards but on a city of contradictions and often-tragic consequences.

Keanu Reeves stars as Tom Ludlow, a veteran LAPD cop who finds life difficult to navigate after the death of his wife. When evidence implicates him in the execution of a fellow officer, he is forced to go up against the cop culture he's been a part of his entire career, ultimately leading him to question the loyalties of everyone around him.

Forest Whitaker plays Captain Jack Wander, Ludlows mentor and superior. The cast also features Hugh Laurie, Chris Evans, Jay Mohr, John Corbett, Cedric the Entertainer, Amaury Nolasco, Terry Crews, Naomie Harris, Martha Higareda, Common and The Game.

The screenplay is based on an original story by James Ellroy and written by James Ellroy and Kurt Wimmer and Jamie Moss. Ayer, known for bringing gritty realism to films such as “Training Day” and “Harsh Times,” is directing. The film is produced by Lucas Foster, Alexandra Milchan and Erwin Stoff. Arnon Milchan, Michele Weisler and Bob Yari are executive producers.

The Story

A fan of award-winning crime-writer James Ellroy, producer Erwin Stoff came across the script for STREET KINGS as a potential project for Keanu Reeves. Stoff recognized the moral relevance of the story in todays world and began searching for ways to get the movie made. Ive always been an admirer of James Ellroys work and became completely enamored with the script, recalls Stoff. It was the kind of movie that I love and thought it would make a phenomenal film.

To help foster the development of the project, Stoff brought producer Lucas Foster on board, knowing his experience with numerous large-scale action movies and personal interest in the culture of law enforcement would benefit the project. Originally a period piece set in post-Rodney King Los Angeles, the producing team began to re-conceptualize the film in a contemporary setting while keeping the general thematics of the story in line with Ellroys original vision.

Erwin and I decided to not make a period movie, which was a big decision that had various consequences both good and bad, explains Lucas Foster. We stuck to our guns and wanted to make a movie for adults so that we could have the freedom to be edgy and tell the truth, or at least our perception of the truth, about what it is like to be a cop in Los Angeles.

The producing team approached accomplished screenwriter and director David Ayer for the project, who had to pass due to prior commitments. Eventually Ayers project fell through and he jumped at the chance to work on the project that seemed tailor-made for his sensibilities. He was interested in working with Keanu Reeves as well as material that encompassed his interests and inside knowledge of both the LAPD and Los Angeles.

As seen in his previous work on such films as TRAINING DAY, HARSH TIMES and SWAT, Ayer gravitates toward material addressing the complexities of law enforcement, power and corruption and STREET KINGS was a great opportunity to probe further. Im fascinated by corruption in law enforcement and what can happen psychologically to someone trusted to exercise deadly force on our behalf, explains Ayer. Giving someone the potential to take a human life is incredible power and I like to explore what change the perpetrators of violence, even if its on our behalf, undergo psychologically.

Although Ayer and Ellroy come from different eras and viewpoints artistically, both share a great love for the city of Los Angeles and all its beauty and ugliness. Producer Erwin Stoff sensed that the pairing of Ellroy and Ayer would put a unique spin on the LA crime drama. In a lot of ways, I felt like they are an ideal pairing because David has the same level of fascination with Los Angeles and the tribal culture of the police as Ellroy, comments Stoff. David is a product of LA, he grew up on the streets and is able to preserve the incredibly complex characters that Ellroy created and fit them into an ethnically diverse Los Angeles of today. They are two very similar sensibilities separated by different eras.

Ayer adds, James Ellroy understands police psychology and law enforcement culture very well and what I bring to the table is my understanding of how law enforcement operates today. By combining Ellroys incredible novelistic story and grand canvas with my organic understanding of whats happening on the streets of LA on any given day, you end up with an incredibly rich tapestry in a very realistic environment.

The filmmakers set out to put their own unique spin on the police-thriller genre, which has become its own force within American fiction and film. Unlike most other urban thrillers, STREET KINGS would be steeped in realism and contemporary politics. From the beginning we set out to make a movie that transcended the genre and not just hit the expected beats of the traditional police thriller, explains Stoff.

We made it a point to have the world inside this film populated with real characters with real dilemmas without being white-washed.
Ayer adds, To me, this film is different than the others in this genre because of the meticulous attention to detail, the level of reality and hand-crafting that has gone into every aspect of the physical world and character design. It has an awareness of time in the present day while also having a timelessness associated with the genre, which has been a challenge to achieve.

Ludlow is given the responsibility to erase those people who the powers that be deem unfit, explains David Ayer. Ludlow is someone who started out with righteous intentions and wanted to save the world but found himself going in the wrong direction.

The character of Tom Ludlow essentially represents all of the complex and contradicting ideals of the films title STREET KINGS; he is the king of the streets and societys protector willing to deal with the most repugnant aspects within the community. He deals a swift and uncompromised justice without the limitations of red tape and standard protocols. While America prides itself on due process and constitutionally secured personal rights, the Ad Vice, a specialized unit of the LAPD, are a necessary evil that allows civilians and common people the freedoms and security they enjoy on a daily basis.

Ludlow represents the men who stand guard in the night; he sees all the things we dont want to see and guards us from the evils in the dark, explains Erwin Stoff. He does the things we arent capable of and may repudiate, but benefit from when we enjoy the safety that Ad Vice provides.

The Ad Vice are the guys who suffer so that we dont have to, agrees Lucas Foster. I appreciate the nobility of the idea that there are people whose lives are dedicated to dealing with things to allow the rest of us to live our lives and enjoy our personal freedoms.

When first introduced to Detective Tom Ludlow, he is still reeling from the death of his wife and finds solace in the bottle. He lives in the shadows of the streets and while he works alone, he serves under the protection of the brotherhood of Ad Vice and its leader, the enigmatic Captain Jack Wander.

Ludlow started out with righteous intentions wanting to save the world but somehow finds himself going very wrong, comments Ayer. Hes a man with a moral compass, which is why hes so troubled, and senses somehow that his life isnt going the right way.

STREET KINGS asks some provocative questions. What price should be paid for the greater good and at whose expense Where does the responsibility lie for a broken system and how can we fault those who put themselves in harms way Who protects those who protect us Essentially it is a story of brotherhood, loyalty and survival and all the gray areas in between.

What makes this story interesting to me is that theres nuance to these characters and everyone has a shade of gray, explains David Ayer. Its an urban thriller, so everyones a little bit corrupt, but I think the same is true in real life. Nobody wakes up and thinks theyre the bad guy. In their eyes they have found themselves in situations that grew beyond their control and are trying to survive.
David Ayer continues that although the film deals with the darker aspects of who we are as people, it illustrates there is always the opportunity for redemption: The film is structured like a tragedy and feels like a train wreck, but there is incredible redemption there. There is a message that no matter how far gone you are, there is always a way back.

Anytime you try to tell a story thats populated by real people, there is going to be heroism, darkness, idealism, corruption, betrayal and love, says Stoff. Those are all the facets of life in every city and we werent interested in telling a story that was only dark and nihilistic that didnt leave you without someone finding their higher purpose. While the story certainly takes a very dark and disturbing turn, it really is the story of a hero.