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Review: Entebbe – “A visually slick, politically balanced dramatisation”

Dramatisations of real-life hostage situations seem to live under the Argo shadow in recent years as it raised and reset the bar.  Like Netflix’s 6 Days, Entebbe (US title 7 Days in Entebbe), tries to present a nuanced picture of the desperation that drives people into taking hostages within a reasonably traditional thriller narrative, with uneven results.

The film tells the story of the notorious hijacking of an Air France plane bound for Tel Aviv in the summer of 1976. After being taken over midair by four hijackers; two Palestinians from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and two left-wing German radicals affiliated with the Baader-Meinhof Group the plane is diverted to Uganda in a seven-day stand-off that leads to the Israeli Government’s Operation Thunderbolt rescue mission.

No stranger to high-stakes action stories (his credits include Narcos and the brutal Elite Squad films) José Padilha delivers a visually slick, politically balanced dramatisation of a notorious hijacking that avoids the hero or villain narrative.

However, too much focus on the Germans perspective (Daniel Brühl as Wilfried Böse and Rosamund Pike as Brigitte Kuhlman distractingly flipping between English and German dialogue) and their internal conflicts over the Palestinians story offers little of the insight hinted at during the film’s opening titles.

As the situation becomes increasingly desperate, we see the parallel conflicts of the Israeli Government mainly through heated exchanges between  Defence Minister Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan) and Prime Minister Yitzahk Rabin  (Lior Ashkenazi) about high-risk military intervention and the terrorists own resolve about whether or not they will start shooting hostages.  Böse’s main conflict is around the obvious implications of a German man attacking Jews, while Kuhlman pops pills and becomes increasingly ready to carry out orders. The only time we really hear from the Palestinians is when Böse is challenged by Jahil Al Arja “If I had your life, I wouldn’t fight” he tells him, in response to more western ideological speeches which have been fired off during the situation.

A few too many subplots distract rather than strengthen the story and action. However, an honourable mention should go to Denis Ménochet as the pragmatic French pilot providing a voice of reason exchanges with Brühl in some of the film’s more played down moments.

The film has a dance set piece, which in isolation is beautifully cinematic but against the relative naturalism of 70s beige and brown period thriller aesthetic, it’s a bit jarring.

There is a lot clunky of expository dialogue from all sides, with the hostages serving mostly as extras in their own nightmare. There a few stand out moments though, and there occasional welcome touches of humour and humanity – children play on the abandoned flight path despite threats announced on their lives. Scenes within  Idi Amin’s taxidermy-filled home, and later grinning and waving off some of the freed hostages in a news/PR opportunity is entertaining but renders him somewhat cartoonishly which doesn’t do much to place his role in the situation or inform the wider socio-political context. Perhaps a little less conversation and little more action might have made for stronger drama.

However, bringing an already well-known story (Raid on Entebbe, Victory at Entebbe and Operation Thunderbolt were all made within a year of the incident) to the screen as an exploration of a volatile, ongoing conflict is no easy feat.  But a broad strokes approach stops it from becoming truly thrilling until quite close to the end.

Padilha clearly cared a lot about period accuracy and presenting as true an account of events as possible, but in trying to say too much, it doesn’t really offer anything new.

Entebbe is released on 11th May.

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