There is not too much depth in Michael Bay’s characters. They act more like devices in his universe, which is brought to us through interesting yet absurd camera movements, prolonged action sequences, and an overall chaotic environment. What Bay hopes for, I think, is that before you can evaluate whether you are actually engaged or not in the story, the jarring soundtrack and the action sequences will have managed to suck you in. He isn’t totally wrong. The slick camera moves are engaging, but they have never made a movie memorable single-handedly. It’s the characters and the story that do that, and Bay just doesn’t seem to care about all that stuff, to put it bluntly. Yet, in Ambulance, he has tried to make the most of Jake Gyllenhaal’s charisma to create a layered character, even though his backstory is presented through nothing more than dreamy flashback sequences or simplistic descriptions about his role. Let’s take a look at Danny Sharp and the arc of his character in Ambulance.
Jake Gyllenhaal As Danny Sharp
Gyllenhaal, known for his dramatic chops and his hard-hitting roles in movies such as Nightcrawler, Zodiac, and my favorite, End Of Watch, has deliberately stayed away from genre roles. Roles that are written in such a way that they have to be played in a cliched way in order to make the story work, as the plot is already too thin; so, the plot of his new film Ambulance does not give him much scope with regards to performance, yet Gyllenhaal tries to create an interesting character.
Soon after the film begins, Danny Sharp is introduced to us, and we immediately know the man is in trouble. With a jacked physique and persuasive attitude, he is like a modern entrepreneur, although his business is unlike all the other more legal ones out there: Bank Robbery. With very little investment, one-time risk, and huge returns, his team was ready to go all guns blazing and come out with the money on the other side. Danny Sharp is the brains of the organization. They needed one more man in their unit, and voila, Will Sharp showed up. Will was adopted and raised by Danny’s father, and Danny cares for him like a real brother. Will is an ex-military man and needs money for his wife’s operation. Danny, with a little bit of a Machiavellian streak in him, persuades Will that the robbery is the surest way he can walk away with the money he needs. He does say that he is completely broke and depends on the ‘bank job’ to survive. Whether or not that’s true, I don’t know. Danny gets the needy Will on board, and the team goes to the target bank, which has 32 million dollars lying in its vaults in cash.
Danny works his magic in scenes where he is in command or desperately trying to be in command, even though he knows he is in a lot of trouble. Danny almost succeeds in directing his team to commit one of the greatest robberies ever. Problems arise when a young cop walks into the bank, supposedly to ask the teller he likes out on a date. Danny pretends to be the bank manager but screws up the teller’s name. All hell breaks loose when they try to get away with the money, taking the cop named Zach hostage. Danny loses his footing here for the first time. He didn’t expect the plan to go awry. The truck driver, who was supposed to drive the truck to the back of the bank, is shot down when he ends up at the front. Danny tries to get Will away, but they don’t have any vehicles and are surrounded by the LAPD and The Special Investigations Section (SIS). If his team comprised people with half the IQ Danny had, they might have gotten away.
One cool thing (not endorsing a criminal here!) about Danny is that he enjoys the situations he is in, even in a sociopathic sense. When Will shoots Zach down in order to protect Danny, they run away, taking EMT Cam Thompson’s ambulance, essentially taking Zach and Cam as hostages. Almost the entire movie unfolds in the ambulance from here on, and Danny’s behavior becomes increasingly volatile with every passing minute. He has to ensure the ambulance’s escape, plus there is the cop in the back, holding onto his life. If he dies and SIS Captain Monroe finds out, they will not hesitate to shoot down Will and Danny. His head is calculating the perfect escape, given the stakes are ’16 million dollars’ high. With helicopters chasing him, he puts on his favorite songs to ease the tension! Ultimately, he has to resolve to make his deal with the devil—a feared gangster named Papi. Eight million to get Papi to send his men to distract and attack the SIS unit and the LAPD. Was Danny just riding his luck, or was he actually this smart? Actually, the blame or credit for the devilish intelligence went to Danny’s criminal father, who groomed him in such a fashion that he would outdo the authorities at every turn. Some of it has to be the genes as well because Will, who was taken under the wing of the same man, emerged just as strong-willed as Danny, but he wasn’t made of the same criminal fabric.
Papi’s son dies in the plan, which was to give Danny some breathing time to escape. He was out for vengeance, and when the ambulance arrived, he asked for EMT Cam and Zach, the cop, to be left behind, as they were potential liabilities now that they had seen his base. The good guy Will and the bad guy Danny negotiate to walk away with the eight million and leave the wounded Zach and helpless Cam behind. Danny actually didn’t really care about them. To him, the money and Will’s life mattered more, which is why he proceeded to kill Papi and his men when their lives were endangered. He might be a criminal, but he is definitely not a backstabbing brother. He fights with every cell of his body to walk away with the money, but ultimately, he has to be shot down by Will because he would have caused Cam’s death when he planned to walk out of the ambulance with a gun pointed at her. Even though he was a criminal and responsible for unimaginable mayhem, when he died, the part of him that was a good brother surely pulled at our heartstrings. Nobody thought his death would come at the hands of his own brother, but there was no other way for his story to end. He enjoyed his time on the criminal path, and his destiny was a violent and deplorable death.