AMBULANCE (2022)

  • Release Date: 18/03/2022
  • Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza González, Garret Dillahunt
  • Director: Michael Bay

Michael Bay’s “vehicular mayhem” is gripping, entertaining, and superbly acted

— Ambar Chatterjee

I have grown up enjoying Michael Bay films. Apart from the last two Transformer films, I have practically enjoyed everything that Michael Bay has thrown at me, and that includes 6 Underground that was universally panned by critics and audiences alike. I was hooked by the trailer for Ambulance and had made up my mind to watch this film if it was released in theaters near me. Surprisingly, it was released here in India way ahead of its 8th April release in the United States. I walked into this film with some hope but was in no way prepared for what I was about to experience. I was blown away by the sheer amount of action, drama, thrills, and character moments that this film dished out and I came out of it exasperated.

Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is a military veteran who is trying to get his wife’s life-saving experimental surgery sponsored through the benefits that he was promised at the end of his military services. He soon realizes that he will not be able to pull it off and in a desperate bid to somehow save his wife’s life, he asks his brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) for financial help. Danny is a seasoned criminal and is about to hit a major bank that will earn him and his gang big bucks. Danny cajoles Will into joining his crew. The gang hits the bank, steals the money, and tries to escape from the site of the crime but is viciously pursued by law enforcement. What follows is a breakneck adventure that has enough action and thrills to power 5 medium-budget action flicks.    

It is absolutely critical for a film like this to ascertain the basic characteristics, backgrounds, inspirations, and special abilities (if any) of its major characters before the story moves to complicate their lives further. This is something that is successfully ensured in Ambulance using only a finite number of scenes. We understand Will’s motivation by listening to him on the call with the medical agent. We understand what drives Danny through the first meeting that he has with Will. We also understand that he was expecting him to join the heist and this scene tells us everything that we need to know about their uneasy alliance before we see the duo set out for the heist. The dialogue between Will and Danny is filmed with a camera that is constantly moving and the angles through which we see the men are constantly changing with Danny talking profusely. This gives us a nauseating feeling because of the haphazard motion and is there to give us the confused perspective of Will on the matter while he is getting cajoled in the sequence.

The third most important character in the film is the medic, Cam (Eiza González) whose ambulance Will and Danny use to escape from the police. Cam’s characteristics and her inability to connect at a deeper level with any individual are explained through a rescue mission where we see how proficient she is in saving lives and keeping people alive for atleast 20 minutes. This is followed by a dialogue with her partner who lays out her other stellar characteristics through chitchat. We are also introduced to the massive striking capability of the artillery that is after the protagonists within the first few minutes of them pulling off the heist thereby also ascertaining the threat that the protagonists are up against. Thus Bay sets up his three major characters and their challengers within the first 20 minutes of a film that is 2 hours and 16 minutes long. What does that leave us with? That leaves us with 1 hour and 54 minutes of unadulterated “vehicular mayhem” as they would call it in the Fast and the Furious franchise.

I have seen action of this type before but there is definitely something about how Michael Bay shoots and edits his action that makes it memorable and effective. There is such raw physicality to the action and the visuals feel so on your face that it is hard not to go “wow” in many of the action sequences. One must also note that this is one of those rare Michael Bay films that have graphic violence and disturbing imagery. People are not only shot, but we also get to see the insides of a policeman as one of the robbers puts his hand inside him to take out a bullet. His spleen bursts in the process and then is held up using a hair clip. We see a piece of rod sticking out of a little girl’s gut after she has been involved in an accident. Things like this were a rarity in Bay action films but contribute to making this film even more shocking, grotesque and affecting.

While the action may be some of the most over the top that one can envision and there are moments where the continuity goes for a toss, the proceedings still remain on point because of how convincing the entire predicament feels, how well the actors infuse a sense of urgency and seriousness in all that is unfolding and the almost continually escalating stakes involved in the mayhem. As the film progresses, Michael Bay’s characteristic quirky dialogues and exchanges kick in but they never get to a point where the film loses its seriousness and the tension is diluted. Bay makes it a point to take digs at his past projects and almost all of the punches land pretty well.

Jake Gyllenhaal is terrific and my favorite character in the film. His part is written so well and he brings the sense of urgency in the character so well to the screen that it elevates the character and the narrative to the next level. We are reminded from time to time how dangerous he is but what we get from him is contrary to what we learn from other characters who know his background. This creates an interesting duality for the character and keeps the audience interested to see when he turns evil. He does take a turn for worse in the end but it is not what I was expecting. Thus I was surprised and the tension and buildup that the film was driving to from the very beginning paid off big time in terms of his characters. Gyllenhaal’s inherent charm and electric screen presence are an added bonus over his gripping and intriguing performance.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s character may not be as interesting as Gyllenhaal’s but he has enough going in his favor to leave an indelible mark on the film. He is in the crime for just saving the life of his wife and he, in the very beginning, does something that he has to live with through the rest of the film. His performance depicts how he is burdened by the weight of his folly and it adds a layer to his performance that is nuanced, heartfelt, and in sync with the mood, flow, and pitch of the film.

If there is a thing like Bond-Girl in the world then there must also be a thing like Bay-Girl. Every Bay film has one of these and right from the physical attributes to how they are shot and presented remains the same across different Michael Bay films. Eiza González is one in a line of some of the biggest names in the Hollywood and fashion circuit who have taken up the mantle of being a Bay-Girl. Strangely I felt that her essay was the most heartfelt, grounded, devoid of unnecessary sexual-appeal, and laced with the most emotional depth that I have seen in a Bay-Girl in years. She not only acts well but adds intrigue and drama to many of the sequences that she elevates with her expressions and evocation of the uneasiness and fear of the said moment. Certain scenes would not have been the same if they were not realized as wonderfully as Eiza González does and her give and takes with the Will and Danny are legendary, to say the least. Her rendering of the character feels like that of someone trapped in a predicament that she is shown trapped in and has the perfect vibes to it.   

My only qualms with the film were in the editing department and the sagging pace of the narrative in the second half. There were a few continuity issues in the editing that at this level are unacceptable. These issues made some of the smart maneuverings of the protagonists during the chase sequences hard to appreciate in a way that it demanded to be appreciated. Believability and realism go for a toss as is customary in a film of this nature and that is hardly a complaint. I had an absolute blast with this film and that I believe will be the case with most audiences who walk into this film with little idea of what it was. It gave me very similar vibes in terms of the thrills to what I got in Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi and this is lavish praise for this film. Ambulance is playing at a theater near you and I urge you to give this film a chance. You will not be disappointed.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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