Born in 1968, David Ayer spent most of his childhood traveling rootlessly around the United States with his family, until his folks settled in south central Los Angeles. Dissatisfied with his secondary education, and even less eager to give university life a shot ("I was never a college boy"), he dropped out of the urban high school landscape early on and joined the navy; both environments would figure heavily into his writing down the road. After a long stint in the military (during which he worked on a Cold War nuclear-attack submarine, operating sonar), Ayer supported himself with construction work, wrote short stories, and claims that he learned how to pen movie scripts by reading Syd Field. He eventually entered the screenwriting arena at age 30, via a friendship with established screenwriter Wesley Strick (Cape Fear, Wolf), who got him a job as a script doctor. The studios hired Ayer to do one of the rewrites on the Antoine Fuqua picture Training Day. Released in 2001, the picture has Ethan Hawke as LAPD newcomer Jake Hoyt, who -- in an effort to join the NARC squad -- attaches himself to Denzel Washington's thick-skinned Detective Sergeant Alonzo Harris, but inadvertently finds himself being set up as the scapegoat in a wicked con. The film eventually became a blockbuster and a critical success to boot; nearly every major critic gave Fuqua's effort positive notices.
While Training Day entered its pre-production phase, Breakdown helmer Jonathan Mostow searched for a third scripter to author the screenplay for U-571, a WWII submarine thriller, with himself and his writing partner, Sam Montgomery. He quickly landed on Ayer -- an ironic turn, for Mostow initially lacked prior knowledge of the writer's submarine days. Thus, when the filmmaker learned of Ayer's history, it came only as an added incentive; in writing the piece, Ayer was able to pull a great deal of inspiration from years of stories he'd picked up in naval experience. The three men sold the U-571 script to the infamous Dino de Laurentiis and his wife, Martha, for a healthy sum; the 90-million-dollar production, shot at Rome's Cinecitta and off the Maltese coast in early 1999, reportedly grossed about 95 million dollars in domestic and foreign theatrical sales through August 2000. Released in April of that year, the picture relays the tale of a bunch of U.S. reconnaissance agents who attempt to intercept a sinking Nazi sub to retrieve a decoding device before the craft can be rescued by another Axis vessel. It stars Harvey Keitel, Jon Bon Jovi, Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, and others.
Meanwhile, work flowed in steadily. Ayer inked an option to pen The Fast and the Furious (2001) with co-screenwriters Gary Scott Thompson and Erik Bergquist for Universal. Like Training Day, the scenario explored Los Angeles gang and crime life and thus pulled heavily from Ayer's experiences as an adolescent. Adapted from a Vibe Magazine article about street racing gangs, Fast stars Paul Walker as Brian O'Conner, an undercover federal agent who joins a bunch of illegal drag racers, led by Vin Diesel, to investigate and solve a chain of serial hijackings.
Ayer more or less typecast himself as a crime and action scripter for two 2003 projects, and thus strove to repeat the successes of his prior efforts. Dark Blue (2003) -- his first credited solo effort -- is directed by Bull Durham's Ron Shelton. It stars Kurt Russell as Eldon Perry, a rule-breaking LAPD cop who -- during the 1992 Los Angeles riots -- takes on an unseasoned, idealistic young partner. Critical reactions were mixed; the picture did decent box-office. Ayer's follow-up as a solo scripter, the same year's S.W.A.T., hit cinemas in August 2003 and divided critics even more sharply; The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern commented, "[It] looks like the deformed spawn of a development process gone awry." After S.W.A.T., a couple of years passed sans new Ayer efforts, but he posed a double threat with the 2006 production Harsh Times, its script developed in the Sundance writing labs. Like its predecessors, this film centers around an LAPD cop, Jim (Christian Bale), this one an emotionally unstable Gulf War Vet, kicked off the police force and approached by the Department of Homeland Security to protect the country under its auspices. Eva Longoria co-stars as Sylvia, Jim's dirt-poor Mexican girlfriend. The film went into production in January 2005 and the studio scheduled it for release in 2006, at about the same time Ayer signed on to helm a remake of Sam Peckinpah's Wild Bunch.