Joseph Gordon-Levitt impresses in this well-crafted thriller that swiftly loses altitude, abandoning a taut terror plot for melodrama.
One gets the sense that you’re not supposed to be having much fun with Patrick Vollrath’s claustrophobic thriller 7500, but you can’t help but wish it was more enjoyable. The film, which confines itself to the cockpit of a hijacked airplane and remains couched in the perspective of its co-pilot, Tobias Ellis (a resolved Joseph Gordon-Levitt), has none of the soapiness or silliness of all-time dumb-fun airborne classics like Executive Decision, Passenger 57 and Air Force One. The tone is much more in-line with Paul Greengrass’s biographical drama-thriller United 93, though its fictionalized tale of Islamist terror resorts to a weakly sentimental attempt at finding common ground – an awkward fit for the solemn post-9/11 tone found elsewhere.
Things open well, at least, as the film eerily cycles between security cameras at a Berlin airport where Tobias and German captain Michael (Carlo Kitzlinger) plan to ferry a bellyful of passengers to Paris – passengers which, we learn quickly, include a trio of terrorists. Tobias’s German-Turkish girlfriend and baby mamma Gökçe (Aylin Tezel) also being aboard feels like a bit of a coincidence, even if she is a stewardess, though one of the film’s most effective sequences involves her, so let’s be generous. Before long, and in a smartly efficient manner, the extremists’ leader Kenan (Muruthan Muslu) has initiated an attempted hijacking which finds him in the cockpit while his compatriots, including a twitchy youngster, Vedat (Omid Memar), cause chaos among the passengers.
That cockpit is, I think, the smartest element of 7500, effectively creating a sense of intimacy but also of tension and claustrophobia. It works a treat in the chaotic instances when Tobias has to fight off his attackers or keep one safely restrained. The close-up shots of Gordon-Levitt give him plenty of opportunity for a tightly-wound portrayal of a man in increasingly desperate circumstances, tasked with not just staving off the hijackers but eventually landing the plane, which can’t constitute a spoiler since what goes up must, of course, eventually come down.
But as much as it pains me to lean on such a fitting cliché, 7500 can’t stick that landing. Once Vedat finds his way into the cockpit Vollrath wanders into distressingly melodramatic territory that sucks away any tension like the plane’s windows had been shattered mid-flight. The final third is littered with predictable beats that just ring hollow in the absence of immediate danger; this, and neither character being developed enough to shoulder any meaningful insights into contemporary terrorism, makes for an uncomfortable saunter to a perfunctory conclusion. There’s enough clever craftsmanship in 7500 to keep it flying above outright bad territory, but only just.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.