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7500 (2020)

DIRECTOR: Patrick Vollrath

CAST: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Omid Memar, Aylin Tezel, Paul Wollin, Carlo Kitzlinger

REVIEW:

From first-time German director Patrick Vollrath comes this spare thriller taking place within the closed confines of a plane cockpit. For much of its slim hour and a half runtime, 7500 is a tense, uneasy experience in a claustrophobic environment, but even at its brisk length, it runs out of gas before dragging itself across the finish line with a somewhat unsatisfactory conclusion.

The film’s title, “7500”, refers to the emergency code for a plane hijacking, so there’s not much point playing coy about the plot. We start in seemingly innocuous fashion (apart from opening surveillance camera footage of suspicious individuals milling around in the airport) on a routine short flight from Berlin to Paris. In the cockpit are American pilot Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his German co-pilot Michael (Carlo Kitzlinger). One of the flight attendants is Tobias’ half-Turkish half-German girlfriend Gokce (Aylin Tezel) and mother of his young son. About twenty minutes into the movie, a small group of Middle Eastern terrorists attempt to storm the cockpit during an opportune moment. After a brief scuffle, Tobias manages to lock out all but one whom he knocks out with a fire extinguisher and ties up with duct tape, but the fight leaves Michael badly stabbed and a less severely injured Tobias taking sole control of the plane. Meanwhile, the remaining terrorists outside the cockpit—primarily the duo of the aggressive Daniel (Paul Wollin) and conflicted Vedat (Omid Memar)— threaten to execute passengers if Tobias doesn’t let them back in.

Like such dramas/thrillers as Locke and All Is Lost, 7500 is an exercise in a spare, confined setting from a strictly narrow viewpoint that renders it almost—not quite, but almost—a one-man show (the remaining half hour or so is entirely a two-man show once Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Omid Memar finally share the cockpit). Patrick Vollrath directs the establishing opening set-up with docudrama immediacy. Of course, these seemingly low-key, innocuous early scenes raise the tension about when are things are going to take a turn. Apart from opening surveillance footage, from the time the passengers and crew finish boarding and the cockpit door closes, we never leave the claustrophobic confines of the cockpit, with the terrorists and hostages outside seen from Tobias’ perspective over the cockpit camera. Apart from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the other actors are only seen “in person” in opening boarding scenes and when someone manages to breach the cockpit. Once the short and brutal struggle for the cockpit is over (for now), it becomes a cat-and-mouse game and a battle of wills between Tobias and the terrorists. Tobias isn’t an action hero, but he’s competent and capable under pressure, and he has the upper hand of being locked inside the cockpit, but the terrorists have cards to play too: the passengers and flight attendants outside as hostages, and to raise the stakes, one of them is Tobias’ girlfriend and mother of his son. And there’s other plot complications, like the fact that the plane (of course) eventually runs low on fuel, and that the one unconscious and restrained terrorist inside the cockpit might get loose.

Character development is skeletal for Tobias—we know virtually nothing about him except that he’s American, has been a pilot for ten years, and has a girlfriend and young son—and virtually nonexistent for anyone else. In fact, one could argue the only reason we identify with Tobias is because he’s played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who’s probably the only familiar face in the movie for most viewers. The terrorists are generic Middle Eastern types with generic motives (vaguely-defined revenge on the West for anti-Muslim actions), with the only distinct individual among them emerging as the young Vedat, whose wavering in his convictions and lack of stomach for violence might give Tobias a way to get through to him. Incidentally, considering this is a German movie starring an American actor, any subtitle-averse American viewers should be forewarned that, while the majority of the movie is in English (Gordon-Levitt’s character is an American who speaks little German), there are significant passages of dialogue in subtitled German (and to a lesser extent Turkish).

Alas, after being an effectively tense experience for about an hour of its hour and a half runtime (although the opening twenty minutes arguably take a little too long to get going), 7500 is unable to entirely stick the landing (no pun intended). If the opening twenty minutes take too long to cut to the chase, then the final half hour when Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Omid Memar finally sit across from each other in the cockpit takes too long to bring things to a resolution. There’s some poignant and compelling material in this lengthy one-on-one sequence, especially when the teenage fledgling terrorist, clearly in way over his head, answers a phone call from his mother, but the conclusion it eventually drags itself to is both predictable and mildly unsatisfying and both takes too long to get to it, then feels abrupt and unfinished when it comes.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in his first movie role in four years (since 2016’s Snowden), gives a solid, committed performance as the stoic Tobias, especially in an intense sequence halfway through when his cool demeanor cracks (in fact, his breakdown scene is arguably among the strongest bits of acting he’s ever done). He’s up to the task of carrying large sections of the movie almost singlehandedly on his shoulders, and reminds us that he’s a capable actor whose reliable presence has been missed onscreen. Apart from the movie’s only “name”, the only other member of the unfamiliar supporting cast to make much of an impression is Omid Memar as the conflicted, out-of-his-depth Vedat, who emerges as a semi-sympathetic and pitiable figure. Gordon-Levitt and Memar play well off each other in their lengthy one-on-one sharing of the screen, even if the material is uneven. No one else has much screentime or development, including Paul Wollin as Vedat’s more ruthless comrade-in-arms, Carlo Kitzlinger as the co-pilot, and Aylin Tezel as Tobias’ girlfriend.

7500 is about an hour of an effectively tense little thriller, leaving me unsure whether it should have been longer or shorter. It’s not a bad movie, but like many similarly undercooked scripts, one gets the feeling that it could have been stronger with just a little more effort and tweaking of the same basic material.

* * 1/2

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