Take the basic premise of SOPHIE’S CHOICE, stick it 30,000 feet up in the air and, instead of Nazis as the bad guys, use some disgruntled Turkish Muslims, and you’ve got 7500, a bumpy thriller by first-time feature director and co-writer Patrick Vollrath from Germany. His 2015 short, EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY (ALLES WIRD GUT), received an Oscar nomination in the Best Short Film, Live Action category. (It lost out to STUTTERER by Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage.)
In 7500, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (SNOWDEN; DON JON; 50/50; TV’s THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN) plays Tobias Ellis, an American pilot for the fictional European Airways. (Not a very creative name, I know, but a safe one.) On this fateful night, Tobias is acting as co-pilot on a routine flight from Berlin to Paris, a trip that would normally take one hour and forty-five minutes. On board is Gökce (German actress Aylin Tezel), the half-Turkish, half-German mother of Tobias’ two-year-old son. Gökce is a flight attendant for European Airways but the pair keeps their personal relationship private. With just a minor delay prior to take off, the flight begins well, but no sooner does the fasten seatbelts light turn off then the crew comes under attack from a group of hijackers who have fashioned knives from bottle glass. Although Tobias is able to fend off the hijackers and secure the cockpit, by doing so, he leaves Gökce to her own fate. For the next 20 minutes (or 70 minutes in movie time), Tobias attempts to make an emergency landing in Hanover while the hijackers try various means to get him to open the door.
While some people may compare this film to Paul Greengrass’ UNITED 93, there’s really very little to compare. Here, almost all the action takes place in the cockpit rather than in the cabin, which is a good construct, but that then creates three problems, or at least it does with this film: First, it puts all the responsibility on one character to keep the audience invested in the story. Second, everyone else, as a result, becomes a caricature because there is little time for character development. Third, and this one is bad here, things conveniently happen inside that cockpit to try to keep the action taut.
Fortunately, Gordon-Levitt is up for the challenge, appearing in almost every scene, and he delivers the goods. Of course, one can easily fault Tobias for not being able to speak a word of German after living in Berlin for at least two years. One of the hijackers, Vedat (Austrian actor Omid Memar), is fluent in German, English and Turkish, and possibly Arabic as well. I have two other problems with the story. Hanover is only about 20 minutes from Berlin by air — it’s so close that there are no direct flights between the two cities. By the time Tobias switches off the fasten seatbelts light, the plane is probably already over Hanover so why does it take another 20 minutes to get there? Or why doesn’t the control tower direct him to return to Berlin where, presumably, more resources are available to deal with the hijackers? My second problem is the hijackers’ motivation. I won’t get into it and ruin it for you but it seems to be a lazy way out, much like European Airways is a lazy name to give an airline.
All that being said, 7500 is not a disaster of a film. In fact, it’s somewhat entertaining but that’s all due to Gordon-Levitt’s performance. Not surprisingly, 7500 has been available in its native Germany for a few months now. It’s now also available for the rest of us to watch on Amazon Prime. If you’re stuck inside and looking for something new to watch, you could do a lot worse than 7500. If you haven’t seen UNITED 93 though, definitely check that one out.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, June 26th, 8:30 am HK time!
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