Performances soar in lean, tense tale of hijacked airliner
As the co-pilot of a hijacked commercial airliner dealing with an injured arm and moral dilemmas after his captain (Carlo Kitzlinger) is killed, Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers a commanding performance in “7500,” a lean, admirably tense thriller that, during a nailbiting hour and a half, takes place almost entirely behind the locked door of the cockpit.
But although he’s alone in attempting to guide the plane to an emergency landing while dealing with threats to hostages, the actor is joined in piloting the film to its satisfying, if somber, conclusion by a young performer you’ve likely never heard of: Omid Memar, playing a frightened, ambivalent teenage hijacker.
Memar doesn’t really step to the fore until the film’s nerve-wracking third act, but his intense, conflicted performance is every bit as good as Gordon-Levitt’s, under the assured direction of Patrick Vollrath. (Vollrath’s previous claim to fame was the Oscar-nominated 2015 live-action short “Everything Will Be Okay.” This marks the German director’s solid, spare feature debut.)
There are no forced theatrics or false heroics in “7500,” which Vollrath co-wrote with Senad Halilbasic: For much of the film, Gordon-Levitt’s Tobias is alone in the cockpit, save for one unconscious hijacker, whom Tobias has bound with tape (Murathan Muslu), and the body of the dead pilot. On the other side of the door — seen only in grainy yet harrowing black-and white security-camera footage — are a few hijackers, armed only with knives fashioned from broken glass. That’s enough for them to use against some of the plane’s 85 passengers and a couple of crew members, including a flight attendant (Aylin Tezel) who is Tobias’ fiancee
3 stars (out of 4) Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Carlo Kitzlinger, Omid Memar, Murathan Muslu, Aylin Tezel
Playing: Amazon Prime Video
Rated: R (for violence, terror and crude language)
Running time: 1:32
and the mother of their young son.
For most of the film, we know only what Tobias knows, which isn’t much: The Muslim hijackers haven’t made any demands other than to be let inside the cockpit, on whose door they bang with a drumbeat-like urgency that heightens the drama. He can’t do that, of course. Regulations insist that the cockpit door under no circumstances be opened, no matter what is happening on the other side. Not initially knowing what the terrorists hope to achieve, or even their politics — although they can be surmised fairly easily — also adds to the sense of immediacy.
“7500” is, at heart, a chamber piece. The setting, the number of characters and the setup are all constrained in an elegant yet dramatically effective way that belies the film’s low budget. There’s a taut, piano wire-like quality to its simplicity: None of the drama comes from action-movie cliches, but rather from the actors, along with the disembodied voices of an air traffic controller, a police officer and others. There’s a sickening sense of helplessness that hangs over the first film’s first hour.
When Memar, as the reluctant 18-year-old hijacker Vedat, finally ends up on screen alone with Gordon-Levitt, the film becomes a spine-tingling two-hander, a tale told in glances, not gratuitous mayhem.
Where it goes, and how it gets there, may surprise — or even disappoint — you, if you’re used to more conventional narratives. “7500” can also be hard to take at times. But the film’s thought-provoking, even quiet finale is worth it.
A hurt co-pilot (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) tries to make an emergency landing with terrorists on board in “7500.”