Essay “Ambulance”: what to expect from this action / thriller
There’s a weird pastime in Los Angeles: the televised car chase. The new movie Ambulance is, for most of its running time, like watching one of these, except instead of being captured by local news helicopters hovering overhead, it’s directed by Michael Bay with all the flourishes you’d expect from the gonzo director, including drone fire and explosions galore. Which is to say, it’s captivating and a little nauseating.
in marketing for Ambulance the letters L and A in the middle of the title are highlighted to emphasize that, yes, this is set in Los Angeles. It’s not subtle, but what did you expect from a Bay production? And in fact, Ambulance is a very Los Angeles movie. Not just because of its references to the Dodger Dogs – great food – but because of its inescapable fascination with high-speed pursuit.
According to a New Yorker 2006 feature, the first TV chase that aired in 1990 on KCOP. The tradition of cutting out shows took off in the 90s after several stations showed California Highway Patrol tracking down a murderer named Darryl Stroh who drove through highways and city streets before being killed. After OJ Simpson’s infamous chase in his white Bronco in 1994, the local Los Angeles pastime went national. These days, the car chase has gone digital. Subscribe to local news providers KTLA on Facebook and you can find these types of grim shows streaming straight to your phone. A source said New Yorker journalist Tad Friend that there is a specific Angeleno appeal to this kind of hijacking. “Here, everyone from old ladies to Catholic priests are waiting for blood and guts, waiting to be appalled and mesmerized,” he said.
Why? Mary Melton wrote in Los Angeles in 2016“Los Angeles’ obsession with car chases results from a confluence of factors: the aggressive pursuit policy of the LAPD (which is under review by the police commission), the horizontality of the city, an abundance of freeways, advances in camera technology, and a competitive television news market that encourages imitation rather than innovation. There’s a loneliness in Los Angeles that makes those times alluring. you spend hours in your car, often alone, obeying the rules of the road. Watching a car chase is like watching someone say, “fuck all that”. It doesn’t matter who’s in the driver’s seat. It’s intoxicating to break the rules.
In Ambulance, two brothers, Danny and Will Sharp, played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Yayha Abdul-Mateen II, hijack an ambulance after a heist gone wrong. Danny is a live wire in a cashmere sweater who has gone into their father’s thieving business; Will joined the Marines to get away from it but now needs the money to pay for his wife’s surgery. Inside the vehicle is an injured LAPD officer and Cam, an EMT played by Eiza González. It’s a simple premise: can they escape seemingly countless obstacles and bring Will home with his wife and child? While the chases aired on local news give the big picture of the action; Bay pulls out all the tricks from her book to bring the audience as close to the thrill as possible. His cameras refuse to stop moving as Will and Danny face off against helicopters and through interchanges.
And yet, as a former Angeleno, I found myself watching Ambulance the way I was sometimes glued to a small television screen. In the back of my mind, I was tracing Danny and Will’s path. The flight begins in downtown Los Angeles. They take to the back alleys for a while before finally turning onto Highway 110, which takes them south. From there, they land on the 105, which takes them west to LAX, before a conflict at the 105 and 405 interchange, heading east. At one point, they are driving along the nearly empty Los Angeles River so Bay can film a scene where Gyllenhaal gets out of the ambulance and shoots a low-flying helicopter. I guess from the 405 they come back on the 10, which takes them to Boyle Heights where most of the trip ends. The out-of-town FBI agent says he’s never been this far east; meanwhile, his LAPD counterpart wears a USC shirt all the time because he’s from LA.
The cries to various highways will seem secondary to anyone who has spent a lot of time in the city, although to others it may seem like something out of the ordinary. SNL sketch “The Californians”. And it’s this symphony of random numbers that makes Ambulance like any other car chase. Part of the reason you’re attracted is because you want to know where they’re going and how they’re going to get there. It’s like a puzzle built from LA’s infrastructure.
But, of course, you can’t watch a car chase without feeling that insidious creep of voyeurism. The hollow of your gut knows human lives are at stake, yet you watch anyway. Jake Gyllenhaal, who wants his performance to be as big as Bay booms here, explored that in SomnambulistDan Gilroy’s 2014 thriller about local Los Angeles news bloodlust. Ambulance is not Somnambulist.
Bay, as is typical for the man behind the Transformers frankness, is not one to qualify. It doesn’t ask viewers to morally question why they can’t look away; He just tries to penetrate them. But this way it is almost more accurate for the car chase experience. It’s unequivocally entertaining, but that feeling of unease isn’t just because Bay’s camera makes you feel like you’re on a roller coaster. Just like real life, Bay likes to treat humans like playthings for our enjoyment.