7500 is carried by an excellent Joseph Gordon-Levitt performance and serves as a worthy entry in the canon of trapped environment narratives.
I am not sure that 7500 could be made in the US studio system anymore. Telling the story of a pilot trapped in the cockpit of a European passenger plane during a terrorist attack, the film is consciously a throwback to the era where anonymous Muslim terrorists were the villainous norm. 7500 opens with security cam footage of the attackers crafting their improvised glass weapons in the Berlin airport before boarding a Paris bound flight. That is the extent of the character development most of the terrorists will see here. For some viewers, the retrograde depiction might be a turnoff. However, when your elevator pitch is “United 93, but fun”, a more nuanced depiction of terrorism would obviate any sense of dopey action movie joy.
The film is blessedly lean with its set-up. We meet our hero, an American expat co-pilot played by the ever likable Joseph Gordon-Levitt ((500) Days of Summer) named Tobias Ellis, and are quickly given the essential details: he has a young son with one of the flight attendants on the plane and he is well respected by the flight’s German pilot. There is some pleasant banter to warm the audience to the supporting characters, and a few jokes at the expense of Gordon-Levitt’s poor German. And then we have liftoff. Occurring in something approximating real time and with an array of extended takes, it is not long into the flight before the terrorist attack begins.
The initial assault is violent and intense; director Patrick Vollrath keeps the action easy to understand despite the spatial constraints of the cockpit. After Tobias fends off the initial assault, the film locks into its real mode: a trapped environment thriller reminiscent of something like Phone Booth. Tobias must re-route the flight to a neighboring airport while fending off the efforts of the terrorists to break into the cockpit. Perhaps most remarkable about the film’s impressive craft is the sound editing and the interplay of constant banging at the cockpit door, the ceaseless din of airplane alarms, and the pained grunts of our hero create a cohesive and believable environment. Vollrath’s tendency towards long shots helps the sense of immersion as well. Put simply, it feels like the viewer is locked in an actual airline cockpit and that carries weight. This is a film that would have benefited from the big screen, and will certainly play better with distraction-free viewing at home.
Much of the film’s action sees Tobias watching the terrorists’ activity outside the cockpit on a small monitor, which effectively conveys the claustrophobia of the situation and gives our lead something to play against. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is wonderful throughout: he brings a calm everyman heroism cut from the Tom Hanks cloth. Tobias is not the sort who slaughters terrorists and takes back the plane with his military acumen, rather he is the type who shows his heroism by doing his job as well as possible under immense pressure. If you have ever seen an action movie before, it should come as no surprise that the one character we meet who is trapped in body of the plane with the terrorists eventually comes into peril, and it is these moments that Gordon-Levitt ratchets up his performance to a level of frightful intensity. No one will ever win an Oscar for a role like this, but when these trapped environment movies work – as this one does – it is almost always as a direct result of the efforts of the film’s star.
Perfect, it is not. 7500 is predictable and cliched. It is not at all concerned with cultural sensitivity and the vast bulk of the film’s characters are one note. Nevertheless, it makes for a harrowing and fun experience showcasing an excellent Joseph Gordon-Levitt performance and some impressive filmmaking craft.
7500 is now available to watch on Prime Video.
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