“7 Days in Entebbe” opens with the kind of moral handwringing that should give conservatives pause.
The film summarizes the Middle East conflict by saying revolutionaries like the hijackers in question were either freedom fighters or terrorists, depending on your point of view.
That, and the fact that the progressive studio Participant Media is behind “Entebbe” hardens those fears. Good thing the film slowly but surely brushes past Moral Equivalency 101. It’s a remarkably balanced portrait of the 1976 hijacking crisis that tested Israel’s resolve.
Daniel Bruhl and Rosamund Pike play German terrorists Wilfried Böse and Brigitte Kuhlmann, respectively, who successfully hijack an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris. They’re eager to revive what we’re told is a flailing Palestinian resistance.
“If we do this right, they’ll have to do anything we want,” they claim. They’ll start with the release of pro-Palestinian militants, thank you.
Not so fast.
Israel doesn’t negotiate with terrorists. And while Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi) is softening on that pledge others demand a military solution.
Wild cards abound. There’s tension within the terrorist ranks, as well as bruised egos and power plays large and small. They’re also at the mercy of Ugandan strongman Idi Amin. The leader holds more cards than any of the terrorists would like. The hijacked plane is redirected to Entebbe, Uganda, where the mercurial leader awaits.
FAST FACT: Israeli Commander Yonatan Netanyahu died during the Entebbe rescue operation. His younger brother, Benjamin Netanyahu, went on to become Israeli’s Prime Minister.
It’s impossible not to be intrigued, and we’re still a long way off from Operation Thunderbolt. That’s the daring mission to rescue the hostages.
Director José Padilha (“Narcos,” the “Robocop” remake) balances the rescue with the tensions within the seedy terminal where the hostages wait … and wait.
Hollywood and film critics alike adore when a movie takes sides. That’s particularly true if it’s a side they embrace. “Entebbe” offers another, more fascinating path. We hear the expected speeches from Wilfried and Brigitte about the “racist, Zionist” Jewish state. We also see them bickering behind the scenes, revealing deeply flawed souls in way over their heads.
The film’s empathy for them only extends so far.
The hijackers are alternately cold and calm. When they flash compassion it’s more a tactical decision than anything else.
“It’s better to show mercy,” Wilfried says at one point. Brigitte, the tougher of the two, has her own revelations to share.
“I only fear a life without meaning,” she confesses. Meanwhile, they’re paired with two Palestinians with a far deeper connection to the movement.[click_to_tweet tweet=”‘7 Days in Entebbe’ begins with a progressive friendly talking point, but the film quickly mobilizes to keep the narrative pure” quote=”Hollywood and film critics alike adore when a movie takes sides, particular if it’s a side they embrace.”]
Every attempt to humanize the terrorists is met with cold, hard truths. When Wilfried is told by Brigitte that Baghdad wouldn’t be welcoming to someone like her he’s taken aback.
“Arabs are a socialist people,” he says, oblivious to the real world.
Meanwhile, we meet decenf folk like a French engineer (Denis Minochet) who schools the terrorists on what truly matters.
“One engineer is worth 50 revolutionaries,” he says at one point. Direct hit. The screenplay still grants the terrorists their humanity, but it does so in ways that deepen their characters.
“Entebbe” overstays its welcome by a good 10 minutes, including a laughable sequence involving Brigitte and a mysterious phone call. By then we’re itching for the rescue, expectly captured in both its preparation and execution.
The film’s soundtrack follows an oh, so modern approach where low, throbbing sounds provide the aural landscape. It works beautifully here, adding texture to the presentation.
“Entebbe’s” creative flourish involves an Israeli dance troupe whose performance intertwines with the hijacking narrative. Does it reflect the delicate dance between war and peace? The challenge of using a powerful military machine to extract innocents?
Read into it what you will. It’s still a bold gambit that makes “Entebbe” more than an ordinary thriller.
HiT or Miss: “7 Days in Entebbe” is smart, muscular storytelling, the kind you’re more likely to see on Netflix or HBO than the big screen these days.