How (not) to do a heist, according to the movies

In honour of Michael Bay’s 'Ambulance', the cinematic thrill-ride starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as desperate bank robber brothers, we look at the essential beats of a classic heist movie - and what nearly always goes wrong

In association with Universal Pictures

  1. The ideal: Have a just cause

    The movie reality:
    Heist plots need high stakes that force someone decent to do something they wouldn’t normally do. In Ambulance, Yayha Abdul-Mateen II’s good guy Will needs money to pay for his wife’s cancer treatment. He asks his sketchy adoptive brother, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Danny, for help, and is invited into a bank job. Family, eh!
  2. The ideal: Assemble an expert crew of honourable thieves

    The movie reality:
    What could go wrong in teaming up with your brother, as Will does with bad boy Danny in Ambulance? Plenty. Whether it’s gang of two, like Ambulance‘s familial operation, or a football team-sized group, like in Ocean’s 11, it takes a crew of people to pull off a heist, each bringing a set of specific skills to the table. The problem? People who join criminal gangs tend not to be too trustworthy. In Ambulance, Will’s conflict is deep – Danny’s heart is in the right place and he brings the experience to the table, but he’s a loose cannon. With any gang, every member is putting their lives in the hands of the others.
  3. The ideal: Take only what you need to mitigate the scale of the job

    The movie reality:
    The worst scenario is when the haul you’re expecting turns out to be vastly different in the taking. If you have a large crew and the prize money is significantly less than expected, suddenly you’re on the hook for a job that wasn’t even worth it and dividing up a disappointing amount of money. Inevitably, someone’s going to decide they want more than their fair share. If you end up with vastly more money than expected, that has its own problem, too. Besides raising the stakes should you be caught, how do you store it or ‘wash’ that amount of cash?
    In Ambulance, Will needs $231,000 to fund his wife’s cancer treatment. Size of the bank job? An ambitious $32 million. Not only does the spare $31.5 to divvy up throws shade on the noble cause, every extra dollar raises the stakes.
  4. The ideal: Calmly and flawlessly execute a brilliantly simple plan

    The movie reality:
    The great thing about plans is that when you talk through them in a state of excitement, they sound flawless. Only in the execution, in a state of panic, do the problems reveal themselves. What happens if there’s no parking space? What if a cop happens to be in the vicinity?
    Worse is when panic sets in and an accident turns the whole situation on a knife edge, as is the case in Ambulance. In the Michael Bay-directed movie, a cop is accidentally shot in the melee, to the horror of the brothers – neither of who wants a murder on their rap sheet, or their conscience.
  5. The ideal: Evade the notice of the cops

    The movie reality:
    Even if they’re not at the scene, the small matter of millions of stolen dollars will certainly motivate whoever you’ve stolen from to involve the authorities. Unless, of course, you’ve stolen from the mob – in which case, that’s worse. In Ambulance, Will and Danny know that an officer down means LAPD will be swarming like flies soon – and sure enough, they are.
  6. The ideal: Avoid taking hostages

    The movie reality:
    A hostage might buy you some leverage with the cops, and in the heat of the moment, when all else has failed, what else are you going to do? But really, the possibility of escape is almost nil if you’re stuck in the scene of the crime with a frightened human in tow. So you might need to take your hostage on the move, as happens in Ambulance. Will and Danny’s hostage is an EMT, played by Eiza Gonzales, who they’re banking on keeping their victim alive long enough to get him to a hospital without being caught by the police.
  7. The ideal: Get away in your pre-planned vehicle without a hitch

    The movie reality:
    Car chases! Even if you plan a complicated vehicle switcheroo, or if you drive into the back of a moving lorry, or quickly respray the vehicle and change the plates, movie logic states that you simply must be involved in a car chase, and that’s A-OK with us. You’ve worked out by now that the chase in Ambulance involves – yes – an ambulance, which is by no means an ideal getaway vehicle even if the sirens are handy.
  8. The ideal: Fairly divide up the loot and enjoy the fruits of your labour

    The movie reality:
    Yeah, right… But you’ll have to go and see Ambulance to find out what happens to the brilliant on-screen duo of Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.

Ambulance is in cinemas now – see it this weekend!

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