It’s 500 Days of 9/11 in New JGL Thriller ‘7500’

by Warren Cantrell on June 18, 2020

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Solid Rock Fist Up]

There have been dozens of plane hijacking films over the years (Passenger 57, Delta Force, Air Force One, United 93), yet nearly all of them take the vantage of the passengers, with desperately few spending any length of time with the pilot(s).

The Amazon original film 7500 does just that, though, focusing entirely on the dilemma of a man forced to make horrible decisions behind a locked cockpit door. It’s a taut, gripping ride that lasts just under 90 minutes, and succeeds in putting its audience in the headspace of a person with more responsibility than most have ever felt (or will feel) in their lives.

7500 opens with security camera footage of passengers going through screening checkpoints ahead of their boarding of a commercial jetliner. Things move from there into the cockpit of that aircraft, where the captain, Mike (Carlo Kitzlinger), and co-pilot Tobias (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) introduce themselves and exchange normal pleasantries as they go through their pre-flight checklists. It is a good set-up for the audience, for as these pilots get to know each other, so too does the viewer get a sense of who these guys are. Captain Mike is an easy going but competent guy while 1st officer Tobias, an American, is all business with just a hint of drama, what with his girlfriend and baby momma, Gökce (Aylin Tezel), onboard as a flight attendant.

A short haul from Berlin to Paris, Tobias is handling most of the flying duties when all hell breaks loose in the cabin, and hijackers attempt to force their way into the cockpit. In the ensuing struggle Mike and Tobias are badly wounded, yet they manage to regain control of the flight and secure the cabin door, at which point the real drama starts. Tobias is the only person on-board still capable of flying and he must contend with a very determined group of bad guys intent on gaining access to the cockpit.

All of this serves as a great engine for the suspense laced throughout the rest of the picture, though as the first act gives way to the second, one begins to wonder how much runway (pun totally intended, btw) this kind of idea has. The hijackers want into the cockpit while Tobias is no less determined to keep them out, knowing full well that the baddies can cause far more mayhem at the controls of the plane than they can from the cabin with just a few dozen passengers at their disposal. The script, co-written by director Patrick Vollrath, is very clever in this regard, however, and cycles through several sub-dilemmas to keep the tension ratcheted up and the problems fresh for Tobias.

It is a lot to put on the shoulders of just one actor, but JGL is more than up to the task, carving out a unique and fully realized character to compete with everything thrown his way. Tobias is a straight-arrow pilot in the classic mold: cool under pressure, analytical, pragmatic, and deeply connected to his responsibility to keep everyone aboard the plane safe. Yet there’s also Gökce on the other side of the cockpit door, and the film goes to great lengths to show how notions about the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few translate in real-time when a terrorist is holding sharpened glass to the throat of your child’s mother.

And while there’s only so much drama that can be mined from this dilemma, 7500 keeps finding new ways to challenge Tobias and the audience right up to the final moments of the picture. Part of this comes from the relationship that begins to form between Tobias and an English-speaking hijacker, Vedat (Omid Memar), who doesn’t seem as committed as his cohorts to the cause. Things do drag a bit as the film transitions out of its second act into the final third, with Vedat taking more and more screen time, yet the film manages to right itself as it barrels towards its climax.

Vollrath is forced to get creative beyond the narrative as well, and largely succeeds, for this is a story that takes place in a very confined space (the cockpit) that can only be shot in so many ways. Rotating through a series of close-ups, medium shots, and cockpit door security footage to show what’s going on in the cabin, Vollrath is able to establish not just the urgency that’s needed to keep the audience on edge, but a well defined sense of place for all the principles. The decision to focus exclusively on the cockpit rather than the cabin and passengers isn’t just a change of pace as far as a storytelling trope, then, but is a way to introduce a very familiar fear from an entirely new perspective.

It’s a bold move that largely succeeds, allowing the audience to live through the ordeal in real-time with Tobias. And while the film sacrifices some easy self-identification by eschewing anything from the perspective of the passengers, it gives back a sense of autonomy and control over a narrative that would otherwise be entirely out of the viewer’s hands. One of the strengths of 7500 is its insistence that the audience crawl inside Tobias’ head to ask themselves what decisions they’d make if in his shoes, and it’s an effective (albeit unsettling) experience to go through. Well shot, tightly scripted, and superbly acted by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 7500 soars.

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and The Playlist. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing.


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