Monday, June 15, 2020

7500: The Hijacking Film, Post-9-11

Arguably, the last great pre-9-11 hijacking movie was Cannon Films’ The Delta Force, starring Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin. Yet, as evil as Robert Forster’s Islamist terrorist was in that film, he still was not nearly as blood-thirsty as the real thing. These days, the stakes are much higher than just the passengers and crew, which is why the pilot of this Berlin-to-Paris flight must not let the hijackers breach the cockpit in Patrick Vollrath’s 7500, premiering this Thursday (as per today's schedule change) on Amazon Prime.

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.
Gordon-Levitt totally drives the film (while it works), but Carlo Kitzlinger is also highly credible as Lutzmann. They would definitely be a reassuring crew to fly with. Murathan Muslu is chillingly fierce and fanatical as the lead terrorist, Kenan, but Omid Memar portrays Vedat as such a wishy-washy puddle, it undermines the film’s dramatic integrity and only serves as a hook on which to hang the film’s trite message of human understanding and forgiveness.

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.