Under the Radar

Director David Ayer Talks 'Sabotage'



Sabotage stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as John "Breach" Wharton, the leader of an elite DEA team tasked with taking down the most dangerous kingpins in the drug trade, They steal $10 million during a raid and slowly turn on each other after the stolen money disappears. Writer/director David Ayer has made a movie that's part heist story, part film noir, part revenge tale and part mystery story. Why Breach's team stole the money, who stole it the second time and who's taking out the agents are revealed in between the scenes of mayhem.

Schwarzenegger's team features a much higher-octane cast than his other post-Governorship movies: Sam Worthington (Avatar, Clash of the Titans), Joe Manganiello (True Blood, Magic Mike), Terrence Howard (Crash, Iron Man), Max Martini (Saving Private Ryan, Captain Phillips), Mireille Enos (World War Z, The Killing TV series) and Josh Holloway (Lost, new TV series Intelligence) make up most of the DEA team, which Ayer has rounded out by casting technical advisers Kevin Vance and Mark Schlegel in acting roles.


David Ayer made his name exploring the dark side of Los Angeles. He wrote the screenplays for Training Day and Dark Blue and also wrote and directed Street Kings, three of the greatest bent-cop movies ever made. He followed them up with End of Watch, a powerful movie that captured the day-to-day life of  honest cops in the LAPD. Sabotage filmed in Georgia in late 2012 and, unlike most of the productions that take advantage of the state's outrageous tax credits (examples: Anchorman 2, Last Vegas, Need for Speed, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Hall Pass, The Internship, Fast Five), Ayer's movie actually takes place in Georgia and makes rare geographic sense.

Sabotage takes Arnold Schwarzenegger seriously. Ayer never makes fun of his accent, has Schwarzenegger interact individually with the members of his team and gives Breach a relationship with an Atlanta police detective played by Olivia Williams.  Arnold isn't really a good guy in this film but he's not exactly the bad guy, either. The ambiguity suits him.


David Ayer talked to Military.com about Sabotage and gave us an update on the World War II tank movie he's got coming out this fall.

I'm sitting here looking out the window at the Atlanta skyline. There are a lot of movies made here now and yours is one of the few that actually picks locations that give the sense that you shot the movie in Georgia. That’s also what I've always enjoyed about your LA movies.

I think it's important. When you go and you shoot somewhere and try and pretend that it's not that place or some kind of Generic Movie World place with no identity. It hurts you if you’re trying to create a lived-in world or a true reality.


You cast Arnold Schwarzenegger and used him differently than other directors have been using him since he came back to movies.

He was always part of this project. For me, it was an opportunity to work with someone who I grew up watching and inspired me to get into the business and direct. I had an instinct that he's capable of so much more than he's done. Normally, his roles are obviously very straightforward and black-and-white characters and he's usually a lone wolf kind of guy. It was nice to be able to craft a role for him where he could showcase what he can do and to see him work with an ensemble cast and to play the father character to this insane family that he guides and controls.

Where did the idea for this script come from?

The original writer was Skip Woods. And he created this team of hardcore, top-tier guys getting hunted. And the idea that intrigued me was this idea of monsters hunting monsters. You know, what kind of monsters would be able to hunt guys like this?


"Sabotage" gives a lot of attention to the mechanics of a DEA raid. There’s always a sense in your movies that the procedure of how people do their jobs is really important for people who watch your movies get a sense of what it's like to be in that role and be in that job. Is that a conscious aim?

When I was in the Navy, there was always attention to detail. For me as director it's the same thing: there's no detail, no piece of equipment, no tactic too small. When you get these actors together and give them the training with the real guys so they can operate and flow and breach and clear as a team, you feel it. Suddenly, they become believable and it becomes easier for them to play these characters if they have the real skill sets. I want operators to see the movie and say, “Wow, someone actually bothered to get the details right.”


There’s a ’50s noir heist movie feel to Sabotage with a group of flawed characters who turn on each other as things go wrong.

Exactly. There’s a lot going on. It's an actioner. It's a straight-ahead action movie, but there's a mystery. You know, there's the whodunit. There's definitely a noir aspect where everybody is a different shade of gray. There's no real black and white in this world. That’s kind of the fun of it: it's kind of a genre mash up, but at the same time it's this crazy ride and it gives you something to try and figure out as you watch it.

Your straight-ahead tribute to police work in "End of Watch" won you quite a few fans who may not have been familiar with the morally ambiguous worlds in "Street Kings" or your scripts for "Training Day" and "Dark Blue." It’s kind of back to business with "Sabotage."

When you fight monsters, you’ve got to be careful that you don’t get bit, that you don’t get infected. It’s in everything that I explore about corruption. It always ends bad for everybody.

TEN RZ PRINTS Arnold fires from atop truck Nov 19 2012 xl CH__0519.tif

I’m curious to see how people respond to "Sabotage," because Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn’t made a movie like this in a long time, and he's not a punch line spouting catchphrases.

He's somebody you could run into next door, somebody you could pass on the freeway. It's like he feels like a real guy with a real life and real complexities. But, at the end of the day, it's just a fun movie and a great watch.

Do you want to give our readers a heads up on what you got coming out later this year?

I’m doing a World War II movie about a Sherman tank crew fighting in the last days of World War II, starring Brad Pitt. It’s coming out in November And it's definitely one for the armor community to keep an eye on, because we hope this will be the tank movie to end all tank movies. I think it’s going to be pretty important for anybody who served because it really captures that feeling, that vibe and the brotherhood.

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