Tobias Ellis is an American based in Berlin, where he lives with his flight attendant partner Gökce and their two-year-old son. She will be working this fateful flight as well, further raising the stakes. Shortly after the seatbelt sign goes off, two Islamist terrorists push their way past an attendant entering the cockpit, using glass shivs as weapons. Ellis and Captain Michael Lutzmann knock one of them cold and push the other out, but they are both wounded in the process. Seriously so, in Lutzmann’s case.
For the time being, Ellis is still in command of the plane, but the terrorists will do anything to take control and finish what they started. Most of them are zealots, who are eager to die for their hateful cause. However, Vedat, their 19-year-old translator is probably even more anxious than the hostages.
Although 7500 (a reference to the squawk code for hijacking and not to be confused with the horror movie Flight 7500) is set almost entirely within the cockpit, it is still a highly cinematic film. Vollrath strikingly simulates the experience of flying and landing a jetliner. Honestly, it all looks real enough to count as simulator hours for anyone going for their pilot’s license.
Vollrath (Oscar-nominated for a short film) skillfully builds tension out of the cramped and constrained setting. Viewers see what Ellis sees of the hostage-taking in the plane’s cabin, which is agonizingly little. Joseph Gordon-Levitt probably does his best work to-date as Ellis, viscerally conveying the conflict between his head (which knows everyone will die if he lets the terrorists enter the cockpit) and his heart (which breaks watching them beat and murder the hostages). That is also why the film loses a lot steam when Ellis faces off against the equally nervous Vedat during the comparatively slack third act.
It is a shame Vollrath felt compelled to get preachy down the stretch, because it weakens an otherwise strong thriller. There is still a lot of good acting and filmmaking to see in 7500, but be prepared to groan with disbelief during the closing minutes. Just decent when it was nearly could have been great, 7500 releases this Thursday (6/18) on Amazon Prime.