7500 (2019)

The distress code is only the beginning.

When terrorists try to seize control of a Berlin-Paris flight, a soft-spoken young American co-pilot struggles to save the lives of the passengers and crew while forging a surprising connection with one of the hijackers.

I'm a hardcore fan of one-location, claustrophobic thrillers. If the atmosphere is suspenseful and tense enough, it can elevate the film in unimaginable ways. I'm also easily entertained by movies set on a plane like Non-Stop or the classic Snakes on a Plane. 7500 spends pretty much its entire runtime inside the cockpit of a hijacked plane, going for a more realistic depiction of the point of view of the pilots. It combines two aspects that I deeply appreciate in film, making it a really captivating subgenre. However, is it any good?
Story-wise, it doesn't truly create anything extraordinarily unique. Although I appreciate that it doesn't follow the over-the-top, absolutely crazy action sometimes displayed in this type of movies, which can be way too exaggerated, defying all laws of physics and reality. In this case, the viewer gets to see how things develop solely through the eyes of Tobias as well as his cockpit screen and audio. So, don't expect an action-packed flight because 7500 is far from that. It's a technically unusual take on a story told several times in many different ways.
The best aspect of the film is the one I was looking forward to the most: the atmosphere. Patrick Vollrath, debutant writer-director, can generate enough tension and suspense to grab viewers for the first hour. Tobias finds himself with extremely challenging moral dilemmas, where there's no right answer, and all have severe consequences. Watching this part of the screenplay play out is the most exciting component of the movie, which is elevated by the fact that all occurs inside the claustrophobic cockpit.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has been away from the central spotlight since 2013's Don Jon, delivers one of the best performances I've ever seen from him. He keeps the film flying by continuously acting the hell out of his script. Without his emotionally convincing display, 7500 would crash into a thousand pieces. Omid Memar is also really good as Vedat, even though I find him a bit over-the-top during a few dialogues. Everyone else is kind of dispensable, having in mind this is a protagonist-centered piece.
Technically, as I wrote above, it's different from the ordinary hijacking flicks. Besides the exclusive cockpit POV, it plays out very close to real-time, meaning that even though the movie has the common editing cuts, it feels like the ninety minutes are indeed ninety minutes. There aren't any long takes that I noticed, but the editing (Hansjörg Weißbrich) is so seamless that it creates a real-time environment, which helps to give the film a quite realistic vibe. Despite all of these qualities, 7500 struggles to stay above ground.
The pilot's POV isn't captivating enough for a feature movie, at least not in the way 7500 tries to do. For a film focused mainly on the titular character, the latter lacks depth. Tobias's backstory is as generic as it could be, which doesn't help me care that much about him. The narrative follows a formulaic, predictable path that packs a couple of supposedly shocking moments, but these are so foreseen from the get-go that they lose some of the impact. It's a premise that allows for some nerve-wracking suspense, but overall the screenplay lacks a more profound exploration.
In addition to this, the "Islamic terrorists" stereotype deeply hurts Patrick Vollrath's intent. It's been 19 years since 9/11. There's no need to make the hijackers constantly yell "Allahu Akbar". The biggest sin of 7500 isn't the lack of character development, but their superficial, stereotypical representation (not only the hijackers). Hopefully, it won't get online backlash because it's far from being a bad movie…
All in all, 7500 needs an impressive Joseph Gordon-Levitt to keep its cruising altitude, but it still goes through too much turbulence. Debutant writer-director Patrick Vollrath delivers an unusual take on the subgenre, by depicting the hijack of a plane exclusively through the pilot's POV. The claustrophobic, suspenseful, tense atmosphere of the cockpit allows for some genuinely nail-biting scenes, but its lack of character depth diminishes the otherwise emotionally compelling moral dilemmas the protagonist has to deal with. Despite the excellent technical effort, the narrative still falls into a predictable path, possessing the conventional plot points, which reduce the level of interest. The "Islamic terrorists" stereotype deeply hurts the film since there's no need to make the hijackers belong to that religion for the hundredth time. I might recommend it to anyone who's looking for an airplane thriller. Just don't expect a brilliant execution.
Rating: C

Augenschein Filmproduktion, Novotny & Novotny Filmproduktion, FilmNation Entertainment, Endeavor Content, Südwestrundfunk, Bayerischer Rundfunk, ARTE by Patrick Vollrath, Senad Halilbasic.
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Omid Memar, Aylin Tezel, Carlo Kitzlinger.

Genres: Action, Drama, Thriller

Keywords: kidnapping pilot flight flight attendant

12/26/2019

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