By Josh Reilly B.
In the past two decades, Michael Bay has become one of the most well known directors in Hollywood with his unique visual style that is completely unlike any other filmmaker. In a modern industry where some of the most well known directors today, like the Russo Brothers, JJ Abrams, Rian Johnson, Christopher Nolan, and more all have worked on a Star Wars or superhero project, Bay has arguably defied the norm by becoming a household filmmaker without this on his filmography, although he did helm several Transformers movies.
Despite this, Bay has become known for working on high budget, high octane original films that are without a franchise behind it, nor are they necessarily aiming to start a universe or world of movies. The Rock, Armageddon, 13 Hours, and 6 Underground are all perfect examples of this, as the sheer size and scale of these titles require a large production budget to complete. Without a franchise, Bay has often found himself capable of attracting audiences to his movies and making a profit for the studio, a testament to his ability as a director.
Bay’s latest is Ambulance, once again an original film that is incredibly ambitious with its scale and mere premise alone. Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Eiza González star in the action heist film in which two brothers, Danny and Willy (Gyllenhaal and Abdul-Mateen), rob a bank and use an ambulance as a getaway vehicle after their plan goes awry. That the vast majority of the film is based in this ambulance, where it’s packed with four different individuals and must have been a difficult location to shoot in, makes this premise an extremely challenging one. Not only could it have plausibly plausibly difficult to direct in such close quarters, but Ambulance might have one of the longest exterior chase sequence in film history, ultimately executed extremely well by Bay.
The two hijack an ambulance led by superstar EMT Cam Thompson (González), who is quite cold with her patients after they are released to the hospital but develops more of a caring heart as the film goes on. Thompson is one of the hearts of the movie, alongside Will, and these two share a unique connection in that they both recognize the inherent morality in each other.
Jake Gyllenhaal is the standout performer in Ambulance, delivering a slightly manic performance that always threatens to cross unhinged territory, although he doesn’t exactly make the leap. Gyllenhaal is a bad good guy, or perhaps a good bad guy, who has affection for his brother and his nephew but is also willing to chart into criminal waters in a way that Will is not. Gyllenhaal plays this incredibly well, and there are plenty of surprisingly emotional moments that the actor delivers excellently.
More broadly, the theme of family is heavy in Ambulance and, perhaps unlike the Fast and Furious franchise’s continued attempts, actually resonate with audiences in an impactful way. It’s something that viewers might not expect before going into a Michael Bay movie, as most would rightfully anticipate action to overtake everything else. The action is still here, and quite a bit of it given Ambulance’s extensive runtime, but there’s also enough room left in the screenplay for some more intimate, emotional moments as well. Gyllenhaal and Abdul-Mateen have great chemistry as brothers and make their familial relationship work and be truly believable, adding a heart to the crux of the film that may action movies, whether they are directed by Bay or not, often don’t have.
Ambulance clocks in at 2 hours 16 minutes, a lengthy runtime that is to be expected given Michael Bay’s previous tendency to direct long, drawn out action movies. It ultimately overstays its welcome a little bit, albeit not as much as some previous Bay-directed titles, but nonetheless could have done with some editing to streamline the script. There are a vast number of characters, and although this doesn’t take away from the three leads, it does make the movie overall seem overstuffed. Still, each character is given an arc, to varying degrees of size and importance, and the attempt to humanize everyone in the film rather than simply using them as plot devices is commendable.
Ambulance is one of Michael Bay’s finest films as a director, with an incredibly unique premise that is wonderfully shot and keeps the audience entertained the entire time, despite the fact that the lengthy runtime could have been cut down. Jake Gyllenhaal and Kareem Abdul-Mateen shine and give the film emotional resonance in a way that isn’t common amongst straightforward action titles such as this.
Ambulance is in theaters now.