Ambulance is a blast. That’s the first thing we need to establish. The movie is classic Michael Bay, all the way through, frenetic action piled on top of frenetic action, starting immediately and not ending until the credits, with beautiful people doing ridiculous and/or dramatic things and people shouting and shooting and speeding, occasionally captured on a camera that is below them and spinning around to make them look like a statue of a Greek god. It’s so much fun. It’s basically like Speed but if we replaced the speeding bus with a speeding emergency vehicle that the crazed villain was actually inside as it barreled through Los Angeles. This is, to be clear, very good storytelling.
It also gets me to the thing about the crazed villain. Specifically, it gets me to Jake Gyllenhaal as the crazed villain. Jake Gyllenhaal is… he is just so freaking good in Ambulance. Not “good” like “win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor” good, because that’s a different thing entirely. It’s more like “good” as in “understood exactly what this movie was and needed from him and gave it exactly that, wild eyes and shooting a gun at helicopters while leaning out the window of a stolen ambulance and all of it.” It is my position that this kind of performance is as challenging and important as the other ones. There should be a specific award just for that.
Examples will help. Buddy, do I ever have examples. Here’s one from the beginning of the movie where his character, Danny, a criminal and bank robber who also supervises a warehouse full of high-end cars and sometimes plastic flamingos for some reason, explains that the multimillion-dollar bank robbery he is roping his adopted brother (Yahya Abdul-Mateen) into is actually, in a way, a favor and/or act of charity.
Look at his eyes. Look at his entire face. He is telling us everything we need to know about this character right here, in one line, with one delivery. He’s a madman. It’s the closest thing to a late 1990s Nicolas Cage performance, which feels right, given that Michael Bay also directed Nicolas Cage in The Rock. Jake Gyllenhaal doesn’t need to do this. We’ve seen him do smaller roles, more dramatic and nuanced roles. He has those arrows in his quiver. He’s doing this for us. For us to enjoy this movie. He is, in a way, giving us the world, too.
This isn’t even the most crazed look he gives in the movie. It might not even be in the top three. We can differ on the exact order of them as long as we can agree this one is at the top.
Three things are worth noting here:
He knows he looks crazy here. He knows he looks silly. Jake Gyllenhaal is a smart man. He also knows that throwing himself into all of this lunacy will make the even wilder stuff later in the movie feel more real. You hear so much about actors playing roles where they depict a disability or someone with a difficult personality. You rarely hear about actors who are willing to let themselves look this silly to sell a performance. I would argue this is at least impressive as the first thing. Maybe more, just because of the potential for embarrassment.
I am being serious here. Look…
See, this is what I’m talking about. You need those kinds of manic-eyes scenes early on to really drive home a scene like this. A scene where, to make sure we’re all on the same page here, he is dangling an EMT out of the back of a speeding ambulance that is carrying a police officer who is dying of a bullet wound, while a) holding an automatic weapon in his other hand, and b) being chased by half of the LAPD.
This is some primo villainous stuff here. This is Face/Off levels of deranged. I half-expected five white doves to fly out of the ambulance while it was happening, as though they’d been in a container in the back of it for never-specified medical reasons. I know I already made the Nicolas Cage parallel once, but Jake Gyllenhaal is going full Castor Troy in this scene. I have no higher compliment to give.
And it’s not even my favorite thing he does in the movie. That honor goes to these next two pieces of dialogue, both delivered screaming and furious and self-righteous, both objectively hilarious given the context of the movie, which, again, is about a bank robbery going sideways and two of the robbers leading police on a high-speed chase through Los Angeles in an ambulance that contains a wounded cop and the most attractive EMT in the entire world.
Look at a master at work.
I kind of don’t even want to lay out the context here. I kind of want to let these two screencaps stand on their own as little pieces of art. But I think I need to. Hmm. Let’s do this:
- The first thing was said while screaming down a highway and was about an unrelated shipment of plastic flamingos, all of which was so unnecessary and perfect
- The second thing happened after the EMT (Eiza Gonzalez) sprayed him with a fire extinguisher to try to escape and I really insist you watch or rewatch this movie very soon just to hear Jake Gyllenhaal’s delivery of “IT’S CASHMERE”
At other points in the movie, he compared their vehicle to a shark and a locomotive, both times because “we don’t stop,” and if you think I don’t now want to see a movie where Jake Gyllenhaal plays the conductor of a train that is shaped like a shark, you are sorely, deeply mistaken. Madness. Beautiful madness.
This is a little thing but I love it. You know how I said this movie is a lot like Speed, what with the breakneck pacing and the racing through Los Angeles and all of it? Well, there’s another similarity here, too. You see how Jake Gyllenhaal is holding the phone here? Using his opposite arm to reach across his face and hold it up to the ear on the other side of his head? That’s… weird. People don’t talk on the phone like that. In fact, there’s only been one other time I’ve seen someone hold a phone that way…
Do I think Jake Gyllenhaal did this on purpose? Do I think he held the phone like this as a deliberate homage to Dennis Hopper’s character in Speed, another madman responsible for a runaway vehicle that is funded with taxpayers’ money?
I don’t know.
I really don’t.
But I want this to be the case very badly, to the point that if you ever hear Jake Gyllenhaal definitively state that he was not doing this, just, like, don’t tell me. Let me have this one. It’s too fun to ruin with the truth.
Let’s go ahead and close things out with this.
I share this GIF here for two equally important reasons:
- I mentioned way back at the beginning of this that there’s a scene where Jake Gyllenhaal leans out the window of a speeding ambulance to fire an automatic weapon at two low-flying helicopters and I didn’t want you to think I was kidding
- If we can’t figure out a way to give people a prestigious award for doing exactly this kind of thing, and for building a performance that makes it a believable thing for their character to do in the moment, then… I mean, what are any of us doing?
Please fix this. Please recognize greatness. Please recognize that Jake Gyllenhaal did something special here. It’s time.