We meet airline pilot Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he’s going over his checklist and preparing for an overseas flight from Berlin to Paris.
Tobias flirts with one of the flight attendants, who is the mother of his child, and exchanges in small talk with his seen-it-all captain. It appears that we’re witnessing nothing out the ordinary and the characters seem in full concentration of their tasks.
Without any warning, violence breaks out, the door to the cockpit is on lockdown from terrorists and a cat and mouse game is played between the monsters taunting the passengers and the fearful pilots helming the plane.
Patrick Vollrath’s unbearably intense thriller “7500” is an impressive feat, an intimate spin on an airline hostage drama that is so effective and convincing, it overcomes a potentially gimmicky presentation.
Most of it is set entirely in the cockpit, with glimpses at black and white surveillance footage informing of us of what’s occurring outside the cabin. There is also the opening credits, in which we view the terrorists as they enter the airport, calmly go through security checks and wait silently, motionless in the waiting area. Its eerie, as our only exterior footage is through the emotionless vision of security footage.
“7500” isn’t an action movie or a conventional hostage drama. Despite being set almost entirely in one location, it’s not an art movie, either. Like a taut stage play that has been intelligently opened up for the big screen, it works perfectly in its unique manner.
If anything, the suspense seems thicker and more unnerving because our protagonist can’t leave his assigned space; on top of struggling to control his plane outside the cockpit door, he also battles the elements and technical problems that arise.
The calm of the establishing scenes are welcome, as the violence breaks out in a jolting moment and the tension never relents for the rest of the film. An especially unnerving touch is how the terrorists relentlessly pound on the cockpit door. Also, aside from some light piano playing over the end credits, there’s no music score.
Although the small supporting cast performs ably, its Gordon-Levitt’s film and he’s excellent. Following his breakout role in “Inception” (though longtime fans would cite other works from his busy career), Gordon-Levitt has chosen starring vehicles that either haven’t worked (like Robert Zemeckis’ “The Walk”) or did work but nobody saw (like Oliver Stone’s “Snowden”).
Here, minus an accent or vocal affectation (which can sometimes hinder his acting), he makes Tobias a real, intelligent and entirely sympathetic protagonist.
Excellent visual effects create the persuasive views from the cockpit window. I’m guessing Gordon-Levitt and his co-stars did most of their scenes on a cockpit mockup with green screens outside the windows, with the CGI added later. However, the special effects are so good, it appears the whole thing was filmed in flight.
Making his feature film debut after helming a handful of short films is German filmmaker Vollrath. He’s got the skill and attention to detail to go the distance -- hopefully, this will lead to opportunities that won’t be squandered on big franchise movies. His ability to control the complex narrative and technical requirements reminded me of Mike Flanagan (“Hush,” “Doctor Sleep“).
My problem isn’t with how unceasingly tough and suspenseful “7500” is but what the point might be. It’s another entry in a long list of movies with vicious Muslim terrorists who slash away at frightened victims.
For some, this will be too much.
Although a work of fiction, “7500” owes its straightforward approach to an in-flight hostage takeover to Paul Greengrass’ film, “United 93.” I’ve never re-visited Greengrass’ film, which I kind-of admired from a technical standpoint but, in spite of its noble intentions, found exploitative. This film is a work of fiction, though that hardly buffers the unease it creates.
To be glib, this will never, ever be an in-flight movie but in total seriousness, those with a fear of flying should avoid this one. As someone who used to be a white-knuckle flier (no joke, I wasn’t unlike John Lithgow’s character in “Twilight Zone- The Movie”), movies like these can be nightmare and paranoia fuel for frequent flyers.
Perhaps I’m not entirely comfortable with how effective this film is at turning filmgoers into a nail-biting wreck, though, I suppose, that will come across as a major recommendation for some. Perhaps the world is so unsettling right now that a movie like this seems like an assault on the senses. “7500” isn’t escapism but a survival story that will have you clenched with anxiety until the end credits role.
It’s very good for what it is but it’s also a rocky flight I won’t be taking again any time soon.
Three and a Half Stars