2020, PG-13, 92 mins.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tobias Ellis / Omid Memar as Vedat / Aylin Tezel as Gökce / Aurélie Thépaut as NathalieDirected by Patrick Vollrath / Written by Patrick Vollrath and Senad Halilbasic
7500 takes its
name from pilot's code for hijacking, which makes this international film,
yes, an airline hijack thriller. Obviously,
there have been so many of these types of genre pictures over the decades,
not to mention that some - like Paul Greengrass' masterfully frightening
fact-based UNITED 93 - have an even
more elevated state of dread and unease because of the events of 9/11.
Written and directed with supreme, audacious confidence by newcomer
Patrick Vollrath and featuring a welcome return to the silver screen for
actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt (his first starring role since 2016's SNOWDEN),
7500 emerges as a surprisingly tense and genuinely nerve-wracking effort
that gets considerable mileage out of its extremely limited setting and
the supremely committed performance by its lead actor.
The premise of
this film is almost too deceptively simple: Islamic radicals hijack a
commercial airliner traveling from Germany to France.
Yet, it's pretty apparent very early on that this Amazon streaming
effort is cut from a very different stylistic cloth from most other
previous examples of the genre, and it's all driven home in the sinisterly
quiet opening sequence, which features a series of multiple security
cameras at a Berlin airport that shows the everyday hustle and bustle of
passengers migrating their way through to their next stops. But then
the footage then focuses on a small group of suspicious individuals that
are clearly up to no good. From
here, things begin to simmer down to a slow boil, so to speak, as we're
quickly introduced to 7500's everyman pilot protagonist in Tobias (Gordon-Levitt),
and we witness with documentary-like precision and authenticity him making
his way into the cockpit of the plane that he's set to pilot for a
fairly routine trip from Berlin to Paris.
He's paired with the more experienced Captain Lutzmann (Carlo
Kitzlinger), who foresees little in the way of complications for their
flight to come.
moments are quiet stellar (although some might argue that they border on
slow moving and monotonous) in terms locking audience members into the
tight confines of this cockpit with the lead character, and Vollrath
should be commended for drumming up a sense of immediate realism here in
showing pilot and co-pilot going through all of their pre-flight
checklists and security prep. We're
dealt up some personal melodrama with the introduction of one flight
attendant, Gokce (Aylin Tezel), who's revealed to be in a long term
relationship with Tobias, but their working relationship seems completely
professional. Again, all of
this is presented so leisurely and nonchalantly that viewers might be
hard-pressed to wonder whether or not they're getting a thriller as
advertised. This calm set-up,
though, is crucial to emphasizing the absolute hell that Tobias and his
crew are about to face.
aforementioned suspicious souls reveal themselves on the plane after
take-off and begin to assume violent control of the aircraft using crude,
homemade knives made out of the glass from wine bottles that they bought
at the airport's off-sale. Thinking
quickly, Tobias and Lutzmann try to lock down the cockpit via its steel
protective door, but one of the terrorists, Kenan (Murathan Muslu),
manages to break in and repeatedly stabs Lutzmann while slashing Tobias in
the arm a few times before he's knocked unconscious with a fire
extinguisher by the latter. Tobias
does get the heavily fortified cockpit door shut and locked, securing his
safety and life, but his captain is slowly dying because of his wounds,
not to mention that there's still one unconscious extremist still in there
with him. That, and to
immensely complicate matters, Tobias' sliced up arm means that he'll have
to pilot the plane and defend himself with only one good hand.
He manages to make contact with ground control, which frantically
tries to get him to the closest emergency landing route. Meanwhile, the
remaining terrorists in Vedat (Omid Memar) and his bloodthirsty and kill
happy partner in Daniel (Paul Wollin) make contact with Tobias via his
cabin phone (he can also see them outside of his cockpit via a single
security camera). The
terrorists threaten to kill passengers one at a time if he doesn't let
Okay, two things
chiefly separate 7500 from most previous airline thrillers.
Firstly, Vollrath is going for absolute environmental
verisimilitude here by establishing the particulars of the airplane cabin
and cockpit. Most crucially,
his film seems to be set mostly in real time, which allows for the
undulating sensation of fear of what's to come to really shine through.
This is also not an action heavy thriller like so many others, but
rather one that emphasizes a sinister tone and mood throughout that works
well for it. Secondly, nearly all of 7500 takes place in Tobias'
cockpit, even though we get brief snippets of him interacting with the
cabin crew early on. But once
the plane takes off and the you know what hits the fan, then
Vollrath keeps the entirety of his story trapped with Tobias in that ever
increasingly claustrophobic cockpit.
He also uses no music score, no fancy VFX or editorial tricks, and
shows us nothing outside of the plane on the ground.
In essence, we are stuck in that locked cockpit with poor Tobias,
who's frantically trying to plan his next move.
We see the attackers on the outside through surveillance camera,
but that's it.
7500 reminded me
a lot of the criminally underrated and mostly forgotten 2010 thriller BURIED,
which featured star Ryan Reynolds having to act within the even tighter
confines of a casket that he's been buried alive in throughout the entire
story. Now, 7500 doesn't take
its stylistic gimmick to the nightmarish extremes of that thriller, but
the aesthetic mindset of what Vollrath is doing here is eerily similar.
Both films highlight the Herculean levels of grit and determination
that their two respective heroes have to summon up in order to deal with
the paralyzing fear of their extremely dicey predicaments.
This clearly presents a directorial and editorial challenge for the
filmmaker, seeing as he has to make the film visually compelling despite
it incredibly sparse interior location.
Thankfully, the rookie Vollrath, with the ingenuity of a seasoned
pro, is thanklessly up to the task here, and 7500 does an exemplary job of
transporting us into its minimalist setting while being creative with
camera setups, shot juxtapositions, and sound design to make this film as
unnerving as possible. And this film's soundscape is soul sucking to the extreme, as
we're constantly dealt up with the terrifyingly repeated banging of the
cockpit door by the hijackers...over and over...and over again.
This film was born for surround sound.
the other key to this film's success, and it's a small shame that this
extraordinarily underrated actor has been away from the movies for nearly
half a decade. He, like his
director, seems equal to the challenge here of doing what he can within
the restrictive constructs of the film, and his work here is has to walk
that slippery slope between showing Tobias as inordinately alarmed man at
his most emotionally and physically vulnerable while also evoking a
courageous soul that tries to remain calm when faced with the biggest
calamity that every pilot fears. There's
a physicality challenge for Gordon-Levitt as well, mostly because Vollrath
shoots him with mostly close-ups throughout because of the setting. The actor acclimates himself with remarkable performance
commitment here, and he reminds us why he's an underused commodity and
should be in more movies than he has been recently.