Directed by: Michael Bay
Premise: A remake of the 2005 Danish film. When a bank robbery goes sideways, a pair of criminals (Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) hijack an ambulance with a paramedic and a critically wounded police officer (Eiza González and Jackson White) onboard.
What Works: Ambulance is among the best examples of Michael Bay’s distinct filmmaking style. The movie has all the signature Bay images: car chases punctuated by explosions, dramatic low angle hero shots of the central cast, magic hour lighting, and a perpetually restless camera. Bay’s excessive style has sometimes been his downfall, especially in the Transformers sequels, but it works well in Ambulance. As in Bay’s best films—The Rock and Pain & Gain—the filmmaker’s style suits the material and heightens the storytelling. For all its excess, this picture is remarkably streamlined. Most of Ambulance is an extended pursuit as bank robbers flee Los Angeles law enforcement and tear across the city as their options narrow. Michael Bay’s hyperkinetic style suits the chase and maintains the tension. The viewer is kept uneasy because of the rickety camerawork and tight framing. Ambulance also shows a sense of rhythm and pacing that eluded Bay’s Transformers movies; those pictures became numbing exercises in overkill but the action of Ambulance ebbs and flows in a way that allows the movie to keep up its energy without becoming monotonous. Bay’s movies also tended to fetishize militarism. Ambulance is a more nuanced in that regard. Relatedly, this film is distinguished by its characters and humanity. At his worst, Michael Bay’s films are callous and stupid. Ambulance invests in its characters and the violence contrasts with a sense of humanity. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays a military veteran whose wife needs an uninsured medical operation and he joins the heist out of desperation. The criminal crew is led by the veteran’s old friend, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, and the actor is convincing as a friend but also a dangerous criminal. Eiza González is cast as the paramedic and her single-minded focus on saving lives defines her character.
What Doesn’t: The central focus of Ambulance is on the two bank robbers and that comes at the expense of the paramedic. Eiza González’s character is in the back of the ambulance but she disappears from the movie for extended periods of time. She takes elaborate measures to keep a wounded police officer alive and some of the medical procedures in Ambulance are nonsense. However, the film moves along quickly enough that the implausibilities are mostly swept up by Ambulance’s unrelenting kineticism.
Bottom Line: Ambulance is one of Michael Bay’s best movies. It minimizes his worst tendencies while maximizing his strengths and it is as breathlessly action packed as it is emotionally engaging.
Episode: #898 (April 17, 2022)