By: Jolie Featherstone
[CW: child severely injured, violence, medical/surgical scenes]
Ambulance is signature Michael Bay: action, melodrama, impressive stunt work and, of course, MASSIVE EXPLOSIONS! We would expect nothing less from the director of the Transformers series, Bad Boys, Pearl Harbor, and Armageddon.
Ambulance is based off of a 2005 Danish film, Ambulancen. It seems that Bay’s Ambulance is a US-adaptation in more than just language, but also in a socio-political perspective. It has been adapted to truly live and breathe its LA setting. The architecture and lifestyles of LA is dwelled upon, as well as the racial, economic, and law-enforcement challenges the city has been known to face.
Will, a decorated US veteran left abandoned by the system, needs money to cover his wife’s medical bills. In a move fuelled by desperation, he teams up with his adoptive brother to rob an LA bank. When their getaway goes awry, they hijack an ambulance in a fit of chaos. However, they’re not alone. The ambulance is carrying a critically wounded police officer and a dedicated paramedic. With the LAPD and FBI hot on their tail, the brothers set out to outrun the law while keeping their hostages alive, all while navigating their own differences.
Ambulance will likely receive some comparisons to Michael Mann’s Heat due to its LA setting, intense bank robbery and shoot-out in downtown LA scene, and two lead men who have to work through their own bonds. Ambulance, however, is a foil of Heat. Ambulance is like if Michael Bay put 1991’s Point Break and Joe Begos’ 2019 Bliss into a blender to make a delicious concoction of action, daring stunts, frenetic tension, and whiplash-inducing camerawork. Similar to Apocalypto and Point Break, Ambulance feels like a shot of adrenaline. Bay spends the first 20 minutes setting the stage. We’re then projectiled forward into almost non-stop action. It’s a blitz of adrenaline with archetypes that are entrenched enough to keep us focused on the heartbeat of the chase.
The camera work is a euphoric sensory experience. Like being on a roller coaster at the moment you begin to feel weightless, Faces Places DoP Roberto De Angelis takes us swooping, flying, and ducking through LA. In the beginning, particularly during the escape from the bank, some of Bay and De Angelis’s music video background is quite apparent. Some of the shots are too dizzyingly quick while telling too much. After that, the camera work is focused and powerful. The camera work and use of score help raise this film above your average action flick.
Bay inserts essential moments of comedy between long stretches of intensity and action to create a more sustainable heartbeat to the film. Olivia Stambouliah (who was a great villain in Golden Arm) and Wale steal every scene they’re in with their comic relief.
The commentary on police and first responders strives to be more aware than one would anticipate of a Hollywood blockbuster. The paramedic, portrayed by a Woman of Colour (Eliza González), is given the hero status that they are so often denied. The film suggests that there is more nuance to crime than meets the eye. Some folks are angry, egotistical, maladaptive folks. BUT, and perhaps more often than not, folks who turn to crime are doing so out of necessity or perceived necessity as they struggle to survive in a system that not only fails them, but is intrinsically designed to maintain an unjust status quo. There is a debate on how to handle the situation between the police captain, a rugged cowboy, and a straight-laced FBI agent. The Captain has an almost Machavellian drive to catch the criminals his way. It’s not until his interests are contested that he begrudgingly admits he needs to regroup. Alternatively, the straight-laced FBI agent advocates for strategic communication as the way to de-escalate the situation. Neither of them are completely right or wrong, but there is value in depicting this struggle at all.
The film has Michael Bay’s writing all over it. It contains the archetypal hero and villain bound by family. A slim, conventionally attractive brunette as the cool, tough female lead. It has swelling, emotionally-forceful music. Ambulance is a high-octane action film. It’s not wholly realistic. Much of it is fantasy. However, it’s worth suspending your disbelief if you’d like to buckle into the ride. And it is, simply, a delight to jump into this pulse-pounding ride.
NOTE: There are a few wonderful “Easter eggs” for Michael Bay fans throughout the film. Pay attention to catch the references.
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Jolie Featherstone: @TOFilmFiles