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Fly the unfriendly skies – ‘7500’

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Creating tension – genuine tension – is one of the most difficult things to effectively do in a film. It’s about finding the right buttons to push, yes, but also about discerning the best manner in which to push them. It comes down to the choices made by the filmmaker. When those choices don’t work, the result is flat and leaves the viewer disinterested and disengaged. When they DO work, however, the sky is the limit.

The new film “7500” is very much the latter – both literally and figuratively.

The film – currently streaming and available for free on Amazon Prime Video – is the story of a pilot confronted with an attempted hijacking. Taking place almost exclusively within the confines of the cockpit of an airliner, it is a claustrophobic and taut piece, a bundle of exposed-nerve tension that is rendered all the more powerful by the limitations of its setting.

Anchored by a phenomenal performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “7500” is a story about a man being pushed to the breaking point – and beyond – by circumstances outside of his control. His survival and the survival of his passengers are reliant on his making the right choices at the right time. And thanks to the efforts of Gordon-Levitt and first-time feature writer/director Patrick Vollrath, we’re there right alongside him – muscles tensed, breath held – until the bitter end.

Tobias Ellis (Gordon-Levitt) is an American pilot on flight from Berlin to Paris. He’s serving as co-pilot on this flight alongside Captain Michael Lutzmann (Carlo Kitzlinger, “Berlin, I Love You”). Also aboard is Tobias’s flight attendant girlfriend Gokce (Aylin Tezel, “Little Miss Doolittle”). They make an effort not to work the same flights, but this time, they wind up together; their current concern involves finding the right school for their young son.

Takeoff is uneventful. Other than a bit of turbulence, this looks to be a fairly typical flight. But we know something the crew doesn’t, thanks to a brief prologue consisting of closed-circuit airport security footage – everyone on this flight is in danger.

A group of hijackers – Islamic terrorists – makes a move on the cockpit. Two of them force their way in, but Ellis and Lutzmann are able to push one back out and subdue the other. However, both pilots are wounded in the effort. With the captain incapacitated, it’s left to Ellis to handle the situation and make plans for an emergency landing. However, the terrorists aren’t giving up without a fight, threatening to kill the passengers if he won’t open the door.

Protocol requires the door to remain locked – but at what cost? Can the pilot do the right thing in the face of this terrifying test?

“7500” – the title comes from airline code for hijacking – is an intriguing riff on the idea of the locked room thriller. The vast majority of the film’s 92 minutes take place in the cramped confines of the cockpit, with most of the interaction between Ellis and the terrorists taking place via video monitor. The small space lends an air of claustrophobia to the already-amped tension of the situation, resulting in a film that is powerfully stifling. Basically, the scale allows Vollrath to give us 10 pounds of tension in a five-pound space – the film boils over with an intense energy that is both discomfiting and mesmerizing.

It’s a stylistic accomplishment, to be sure. In less capable hands, “7500” might have read as little more than a stunt, a gimmicky effort that placed all of its eggs in the basket of its cramped concept. Instead, we get something that manages to elevate itself, building upon its foundational idea and creating something far more impactful.

None of this works without the exceptional performance put forth by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The degree of difficulty here is huge, with the actor expected to carry large stretches of the film alone. The tight spacing means that movement is extremely limited; so much of what he does is limited to face and voice. And yet, he’s never anything less than compelling – it’s truly impressive. A superb performance from a talented actor, one we’ve missed seeing since his last big-screen go-round (2016’s “Snowden”).

But while Gordon-Levitt is doing the heavy lifting, he’s not the only one putting forth quality work. Kitzlinger and Tezel are both very good. And the three men playing the terrorists – Omid Memar, Murathan Meslu and Paul Wollin – each take strong turns; Memar is especially engaging, though again, all three bring their own captivating energy to the screen.

One could make the argument that the film doesn’t quite stick the landing – the final 10 minutes or so don’t quite live up to what has come before. And sometimes, it does feel as if the filmmaking gymnastics of the small space are a bit too foregrounded; a consciousness of the process, no matter how impressive it might be, does distract a bit from the narrative being presented. For me, those are relatively minor concerns, though I could see how others might find them more troublesome.

“7500” is an impressive and conceptually engaging piece of filmmaking. Crafting a work that elicits real tension is difficult, but Patrick Vollrath pulls it off in a manner that we don’t often see, thanks in large part to the thoughtfully intense and powerfully nuanced central performance put forth by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Sure, there’s a touch of turbulence along the way, but ultimately, this is a soaring cinematic experience.

[4.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 22 June 2020 10:13

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