I didn’t go back and check after I watched the first feature from German-born director Patrick Vollrath, 7500, but I’m fairly certain the bulk of it unspools in real time, and nearly every second of the film takes place in the cramped confines of an airliner cockpit during the course of an attempted hijacking. And the fact that I’m not totally sure of that speaks to the fact that those elements of the movie don’t call attention to themselves, and thus don’t feel like gimmicks that take us out of the film. It also helps that copilot Tobias Ellis is played with reserved composure by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, which he punctuates with uncanny precision and deeply expressive and sometimes emotional flashes.
The film opens as you’d expect: Tobias and his pilot, Michael (Carlo Kitzlinger) board and do their preflight checks, while we see through the cabin door the passengers also boarding. One of the few sequences not set in the cabin occurs during the opening credits. Instead, we see what appears to be security footage of the Berlin Airport as particular passengers are zeroed in on at security, going in and out of the restrooms—all seemingly harmless behaviors. And as the camera lingers on the passengers boarding this particular plane bound for Paris, we spot a couple of the same people from the security footage, and you immediately notice that first hint of tension working its way into your spine.
We also learn after a brief exchange in the cockpit that one of the flight attendants, Gökce (Aylin Tezel), has actually been dating Tobias for a couple of years; they even have a child together and are planning to eventually get married. And even these small facts add to the building fear that culminates shortly after takeoff when four of the passengers get up at once and storm the cockpit with knives made out of broken glass (presumably from the airport bathrooms). One gets in, but Tobias bashes him with a fire extinguisher—but only after the would-be hijacker has stabbed the pilot, putting Tobias in charge of an emergency landing.
For a film set largely in a single location, the editing and pacing of 7500 (the crew code for a hijacking) is what makes it work so beautifully. The camera positions make us feel as trapped in that cockpit as the pilots are, and the small security monitor inside gives us the most basic idea of what is happening just outside the door (we never get a real look at the main cabin, and that’s almost worse because we have no idea what the hijackers are doing to the rest of the passengers—except the few that are brought to the cockpit door camera and whose lives are threatened if Tobias doesn’t open the door). You can probably guess one of those in the main cabin who has a glass knife put to her throat, but Tobias knows the rules.
The power dynamic in 7500 changes frequently and unexpectedly, especially when the hijacker in the cockpit wakes up and gets free while Tobias is setting his course for the new airport. What do the vaguely Middle Eastern terrorists want? Are they attempting to go somewhere, or do they simply want to crash the plane into something? All is revealed, the stakes shift, and the chances that anyone walks away from this experience alive seem to grow smaller. And even as he’s being screamed at, stabbed, and beaten up, Gordon-Levitt doesn’t play Tobias as a hero; for him, he’s doing his job and following the instructions of those on his radio. He’s not much for improvising, and that adds a level of authenticity to the film that makes the entire excruciating exercise work almost flawlessly.
If I had to ding the film for anything, it’s the portrayal of 18-year-old hijacker Vedat (Omid Memar), who is torn between accepting his potential martyrdom and not wanting to die even a little bit. A great deal of the film hinges on Vedat’s moral dilemma, which is more about him deciding how much of a coward he really is in the film’s final moments. Still, 7500 is a hell of a calling card for director Vollrath (who also co-wrote the film with Senad Halilbasic), who has a real feel for reality-tinged suspense that unfolds organically and grips us immediately. I’m genuinely interested to see what he does next and how fast Hollywood attempts to snatch him up and attempt to ruin him.
The film is available today on Amazon Prime.
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