Provided by NME Michael Bay’s newest film “Ambulance” shows rare emotional maturity and skillful filmmaking from the infamous director.

You wouldn’t be rustling any feathers by claiming that Michael Bay is a bad director and it’s easy to see why. For many people, Bay’s films are representative of the worst elements of the American id — they gleefully indulge in sexism and racism and every other venomous -ism that most Americans would rather have confined to the history textbooks. He demands that you watch as the worst kinds of people torture and murder their way through his hyperactive narratives, commanding your attention with his ugly, irradiated visual style. Even as someone who enjoyed watching Will Smith and Martin Lawrence decimate a village in “Bad Boys II,” I wouldn’t blame anyone for writing off Bay’s entire filmography as being undeserving of praise.

“Ambulance,” however, is a different story.

Bay’s newest film follows Will Sharp, played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, a down-on-his-luck war veteran who, in order to pay for his wife’s experimental surgery, turns to his adopted brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), a legacy bank robber/raving lunatic, as he and his crew execute a $32 million heist in downtown Los Angeles. As expected, things go horribly wrong, and Will and Danny are forced to commandeer the eponymous ambulance, taking an injured cop and stone-faced EMT Cam Thompson, played by Eiza González, hostage in the process. The rest of the film is effectively one long action scene, bursting at the seams with squibs and explosions and drone shots.

What we have in “Ambulance” is a sort of “greatest hits” remix of nearly all of Bay’s previous films. While that might sound off-putting, Bay exercises a surprising amount of care in how he picks and chooses his reference material, creating a collage of influences from his own oeuvre, plus other notable films in the action/thriller genre. The critique of America’s treatment of veterans that motivated the events of “The Rock” also motivates Will’s turn toward bank-robbing — the straight man/wild card dynamic seen in the “Bad Boys” films, once used for comedy, is the primary source of tension in “Ambulance.” Bay has often felt at odds with his material — one need only think of his exhausting attempts to imbue the “Transformers” films with a human element via rote improv comedy and stock relationship drama — but here, Bay gets a story he knows how to handle. “Ambulance” is written like a Michael Bay action scene, presenting the emotional lives of its characters in isolation, then allowing them to crash into each other, exploding into a sensory wave of screaming and overlapping shouting matches.

Bay directs this chaotic melodrama in the only way he can, capturing the tension between the characters’ interpersonal relationships and their subservience to the demands of their social roles in extreme close-ups and handheld camerawork, lurching and shaking unsteadily with each shot, or ricocheting between one character to the next, attempting to draw every disparate narrative into one cohesive tapestry. It’s a tricky balance that Bay mostly pulls off, save for one or two peripheral characters who force the action to come to a grinding halt. His signature low-angle shots — which always felt like residual energy from his advertisement days — help to turn downtown LA into an oppressive labyrinth of glass and rusted steel, closing in around our three lead characters.

On that note, it would be wrong not to mention the performances. Bay seemed to be struggling through a movie star slump in the late 2000s, having to build his hyperactive blockbusters against the shrieking antics of Shia LaBeouf or the noxious sterility of Ryan Reynolds. In “Ambulance,” the energy brought by Bay’s formal maximalism is nearly superseded by the hysteria of Gyllenhaal’s bug-eyed psychopath. Gyllenhaal’s performance is, like the rest of the film, a balancing act, juggling Danny Sharp’s fits of violent rage with a sort of faux-politeness that harks back to Al Pacino’s similarly manic narcissism in “Dog Day Afternoon.” Gyllenhaal’s freewheeling psychopathy is met in equal force with Abdul-Mateen’s controlled sensitivity, and González, who stands alone as the one female character in a Michael Bay film who isn’t underwritten or hypersexualized. If anything, she has the most pronounced emotional arc in the film, gradually shedding the layers of emotional detachment she had come to internalize as a result of her line of work.

It’s in this way that “Ambulance” stands alone from the rest of Bay’s filmography. It’s his most empathetic and emotionally mature film to date, handled with a deft touch, in spite of its hyperaggressive packaging and Bay’s occasionally clumsy expressions of cloying sentimentality. It’s hard to tell whether or not this represents an artistic turning point for America’s least favorite auteur, or if it’s another blip in his track record, given his penchant for nihilistic cruelty. His next film might return to the plastic poison of “Pain & Gain” or “Bad Boys II.” It is, at the very least, nice to know that Bay still has some traces of humanity left in him.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars