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Review: 7500 – “A claustrophobic and unflinching film”

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt returns to our screens after a four-year break from acting to star in a new film released on Amazon Prime this week. The title of the film 7500, read as Seven Five Zero Zero is the international air traffic radio code for a hi-jacking.

The film is directed by first-time feature-length director, Patrick Vollrath who was nominated for an Oscar for his 2015 short film, Everything Will Be Ok. 7500 is a claustrophobic and unflinching film set almost entirely inside the cockpit of a flight from Berlin to Paris. The only scene not set within those confines is the ominous opening CCTV shots of three male passengers silently passing through security checks at an airport before embarking on a flight.

Gordon-Levitt plays Tobias Ellis, an American co-pilot living in Germany who is in a relationship with and has a child with Gokce, a stewardess on the flight. This is about as much character back-story and information we are given other than the convenient side note that Tobias’s German is not that great. This now means that everyone on board has to mostly speak English, other than asides that our main character shouldn’t understand. For a German airline that employs a co-pilot who although lives in Germany can’t really speak German, it does draw into question the hiring and basic screening policies of such an airline. But still.

Shortly after take-off, three men armed with weapons fashioned from various shards of glass try to overpower their way into the cockpit. One succeeds in forcing his way in before Tobias manages to lock the reinforced cabin door. The lone attacker viciously incapacitates the pilot before being rendered unconscious by Tobias with the aid of a fire extinguisher, and here is the set-up for the majority of the film. Tobias, who is injured during the initial struggle must pilot the plane to an emergency landing in Hanover and resist all demands from the two terrorists on the other side of the reinforced door to allow them to take over the plane.

Vollrath does an excellent job of maintaining a high level of suspense and claustrophobia while at the same time never allowing the shots to feel inhibited and confined by his use of handheld cameras to capture the action. Thankfully, this is achieved without resorting to blurred Bourne-esque movements that would leave an audience dizzy and unsure of what just happened.

With the course of the film taking place in near-real time, the tension keeps mounting with the use of a small screen in the cockpit depicting everything that takes place on the other side of the cabin door. The constant thumping on the door (and it is very constant) by the terrorists and passengers at various points in the film, it brings to mind Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell Tale Heart, the relentless thumping takes us further down a terrifying rabbit hole. As the terrorists grow ever more desperate they resort to more and more horrific ways to gain entry to the cockpit and take control of the plane. Unthinkable decisions need to be made on both sides of the door.

It’s easy to see why Gordon-Levitt chose this role by way of his return to acting. It is very much an actor’s choice to have the camera almost constantly fixed upon you in close up and to see if you have the ability to carry an entire 90 minutes of high tension story almost single-handed. For the most part, he does this very effectively with a performance as compact and claustrophobic as the setting of the film. The other performance of note is from Omid Memar playing the youngest of the three terrorists, who is very convincing as a young man beginning to doubt the course of his actions.

It is however the ‘Muslim Terrorist’ trope that feels problematic. It is explained they are Muslim terrorists and we are not given anything else in terms of their motivations or what is driving them to such horrific actions. Whenever a white or non-Muslim villain has hijacked a plane or committed other acts of terror on screen, from the ridiculous Air Force One to the harrowing The Baader Meinhof Complex, these films spend vast chunks of their run time giving these people a platform to explain at great length why they are committing such awful atrocities. Films go to great lengths to humanise these people, regardless of how misguided or tenuous their motivation is. At best, the choice in this film feels lazy. It assumes and exploits a western-based audience’s fears of ‘Islamist Extremism’. Surely, in these times an audience deserves more than a lone white male American battling against impossible odds and Muslims? Isn’t that the plot to so much 80s and 90s Hollywood fodder starring either Chuck Norris or Arnold Schwarzenegger?

The film does work well as a technical exercise in confined space film making and joins other successful alumni such as 127 Hours and Locke. It is faced paced, suspenseful, and will not try the patience of a modern audience, clocking at a brisk 90 minutes. 7500 is a film full of tension and suspense with a more than capable central performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt that many will enjoy, and then forget.

7500 is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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