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Kosher Movies: Ambulance

When I was 13 or 14 years old, I had a good friend named Phil. We both were interested in the popular music of the day, e.g. Elvis, and we would go together to listen to the latest tunes at the local record shop in Mount Vernon, New York. On one visit, Phil asked me to strike up a conversation with the record salesman who was anxious to share the latest rock ’n roll news with his customers.

When we left the store, Phil showed me the record he stole while I was busy talking with the salesman. I was Phil’s decoy and he took pride in the fact that he stole a record. The incident, still remembered sixty years later, reminds me of how important is to choose one’s friends carefully. It is very possible that a good friend can lead you astray morally. This is what transpires in Ambulance, a gritty, tense, and profanity-laden thriller about a good person who takes bad advice from a trusted friend.

Will Sharp, a veteran soldier decorated for many acts of bravery, is at wit’s end. He needs $231,000 for his wife Amy’s surgery. In desperation he contacts Danny, his stepbrother, a career criminal. Danny convinces him to take part in a $32 million bank heist. Though initially reluctant, Will agrees to Danny’s plan when he reassures him that he is doing this for Amy. The heist almost works until Officer Zach, who walks into the bank to ask out a bank teller, discovers the robbery and is held hostage by Danny. Shooting then breaks out between one of the heist members and Zach’s partner Officer Mark.

When the police emergency response team arrives, most of the members of the heist crew are killed except for Will and Danny, who escape through a nearby garage. Zach tries to escape and he and Danny fight. In the scuffle, Zach is accidentally shot by Will. They leave Zach to die in an ambulance with EMT Cam Thompson treating the injured policeman and try to exit through the rear of the building, but the police are everywhere.

To flee, Danny and Will hijack the ambulance where Zach is lying. When Zach looks like he will die within minutes, Cam decides to stay in the ambulance and help the wounded policeman. The rest of the film is one intense action sequence depicting their attempts to escape while still keeping Zach alive.

A highlight of their dangerous ride is performing surgery on Zach while the ambulance is moving at high speed at the same time pursued by police in cars and in helicopters. It is an improbable but totally riveting set of circumstances. How this intense situation is resolved is the stuff of movie magic, totally impossible to predict and keeping you on the edge of your seat, fully engaged in the respective fates of Will, Danny, and Zach, the policeman.

Feige Twerski, a Jewish educator, writes about “toxic influences” in one’s life, similar to the influence of Danny on his stepbrother Will. It is not simple to avoid negative influences: “Maintaining one’s integrity in life becomes a precarious balancing act. Oftentimes, we take a few steps forward and invariably there will be some backsliding. These reversals may disappoint and dishearten us. Realizing that reaching the summit of a mountain includes slippage will prevent these disappointments from turning into despair. The definition of a righteous person is not one who has never suffered defeat. Quite the contrary, it is the one, who, despite his perceived fallen state, will pull himself up, regroup and begin the upward climb again.”

Twerski reminds us that who we befriend can often influence who we are. Our personal decision-making, our values, are affected by people around us; hence, we have to be vigilant in order to chart our own moral direction. Will tries to do this but his love for Danny clouds his judgment. In the end, he pays a heavy price for his friendship. Twerski concludes: “We need to be steer clear of negative influences wherever possible, placing ourselves in a space where we can breathe spiritually clean and healthy air.”

About the Author
Originally from Mt. Vernon, New York, Herbert J. Cohen served in the pulpit rabbinate in Atlanta at the beginning of his career. After six years, he moved into the educational rabbinate and served for 23 years as Principal of Yeshiva High School of Atlanta. In 2010, he and his wife came on aliyah to Israel. His latest book, published by Urim Publishers, is "Kosher Movies: A Film Critic Discovers Life Lessons at the Cinema." He may be reached at rabbihjco@msn.com.
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