Film Review – 7500
There were two thoughts running through my head while watching 7500 (2020).
The first is that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a really good actor. He successfully transitioned from child star to leading man, working in small budget art-house projects to franchise blockbusters. He has immeasurable talent and an affinity toward unconventional, artistic self-expression. It’s a bit shocking that he hasn’t been on the big screen in nearly four years (his last starring role was in 2016’s Snowden). Cinema is a better place with Gordon-Levitt in it.
My second thought was: Why is he in this movie?
That’s not to say that 7500 is a bad movie, it’s just not a particularly good one. Gordon-Levitt plays Tobias, a commercial airline pilot on a late-night flight from Berlin to Paris. What starts out as a routine trip quickly turns bad when – soon after takeoff – a group of terrorists attempt to storm the cockpit and hijack the plane (“7500” is the aviation code for a hijacking). While Tobias is able to prevent the plane from being taken over, the attack has left his copilot mortally wounded. With the terrorists locked outside, Tobias is stuck in a bad position: Keeping them locked out will put the passengers in danger but letting them take the plane may cause an even bigger catastrophe.
Directed by Patrick Vollrath (who also co-writes with Senad Halilbasic), the narrative takes a restrictive approach in terms of its geography. Not only does it take place onboard the plane, it is shot almost entirely within the cockpit in real time. Sebastian Thaler’s cinematography remains in that confined space, from the moment Tobias takes off all the way to the end. The only way we know what the terrorists are doing on the other side of the door is through a black and white TV monitor.
I can see why Gordon-Levitt would be attracted to this material. The limited style forces our investment to depend entirely on the performances. In this case, he carries the film on his shoulders. Gordon-Levitt gives Tobias the personality of a seasoned pro, who has had years of experience in aviation and knows just about every rule and regulation to the T. But it is that very knowledge that puts him in such a bind once the terrorists starts threatening the lives of the passengers. Tobias knows that under no circumstances should he open the door, but he has the humanity to feel guilt for risking the innocents on board. Gordon-Levitt is excellent at showing this anguish. The film doesn’t allow much respite from the main tension for character development, so our ability to connect to Tobias is seen through his actions, and Gordon-Levitt accomplishes this task admirably.
It’s too bad that everything else falls short. There is a good movie swimming beneath the surface, but it’s hidden under a layer of inconsistencies and lack of common sense. These range from little issues to more head scratching quandaries. Things like: if this is a German flight with predominantly German-speaking passengers and crew, why is there an American copilot who barely speaks a word of it? Why do the passengers and crew take so long to realize that they far outnumber the terrorists? Even worse is the inclusion of flight attendant Gokce (Aylin Tezel), Tobias’ girlfriend. Instead of a fully formed, dynamic character, Gokce is used simply for manipulation to increase his emotional stakes. Also, if Tobias has a German girlfriend, why has she mastered his language but he hasn’t mastered hers? Seems like a one-sided relationship, if you ask me.
The most interesting bits of 7500 are, surprisingly, everything leading up to the attack. The entire first act is dedicated to the process the flight crew goes through before and during takeoff. All of the steps are taken – boarding the passengers, making sure everyone is accounted for, all bags are checked, establishing communications with ground control, confirming the mechanical integrity of the plane – all this stuff I found fascinating. As someone who has always been a little nervous about flying (I mean, it is mind boggling that humans were able to get a 90,000 pound hunk of metal to float in the air), seeing Tobias and the rest of the crew work with precision and attention to detail was actually comforting in a strange sort of way.
But the everyday operations of commercial flight are probably not what most people will be looking for with this. At the very least, 7500 operates as pure distraction – something to watch in the background without too much focus. Because if you watch this for anything else besides junk food escapism, issues will arise and make themselves known. Is it too much to say that “a movie about an airplane” barely manages to be an “Airplane Movie?”