Perched uneasily between the melodrama of 70s disaster movies such as the Airport series and the more sober horrors of Paul Greengrass’s 9/11 drama United 93, this lean hijack thriller marks a striking feature debut for German writer/director Patrick Vollrath. Having earned an Oscar nomination for his 2015 short film Alles wird gut (Everything Will Be Okay), Vollrath demonstrates a slick technical ability tinged with a mainstream arthouse sensibility (he studied under Michael Haneke) that may well land him more spectacular commissions in the future.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Tobias, an American co-pilot flying a commercial airliner from Berlin to Paris. Onboard the plane, along with a full load of passengers, are flight attendant Gökce (Aylin Tezel), with whom Tobias has a young child, and a group of hijackers, first observed on thrummingly silent airport surveillance cameras, making their way through security. When the hijackers storm the cockpit shortly after takeoff, the captain (pilot turned actor Carlo Kitzlinger) is seriously injured and Tobias finds himself locked in the control booth – with Gökce on the other side of the door and the attackers threatening to kill passengers unless he lets them in.
Co-written by the Bosnian-born Austrian screenwriter Senad Halilbasic, and taking its title from the air traffic control code for a hijacking, 7500 plays out almost entirely within the cockpit of an Airbus A320, in something approaching real time. Like Steven Knight’s Locke or Rodrigo Cortés’s Buried, Vollrath fully explores the possibilities of this single location, trapping the audience in a confined space from which the wider drama plays out. Cinematographer Sebastian Thaler makes powerful use of handheld cameras, manoeuvring dexterously around the semi-improvised action, combining an air of claustrophobia with a sinewy widescreen sensibility that somehow makes the most of these cramped conditions.
There’s no score either, other than a sparse end-credits piano piece, leaving supervising sound editor Daniel Iribarren to conjure a musique concrète symphony from the ambient noises of the aircraft and the distant clamour of the attack. When the hijack happens, the chaos in the cabin is heard in the cockpit as muffled scuffles and stifled screams, seen only on a closed-circuit TV screen, and made all the more alarming by the muting of the reinforced cabin door upon which the attackers relentlessly pound.
Although 7500 begins in procedural mode, it gradually mutates into a psychological two-hander between Tobias and Vedat, the youngest of the hijackers, sympathetically played by Omid Memar. Having clearly been coerced by his elders into an action he neither understands nor fully supports, this teenager offers a chink in their otherwise zealous armour. For Vollrath, this clearly represents an attempt to sidestep the jihadist cliches that have long been a lazy movie staple (remember James Cameron’s casually Islamophobic True Lies?), finding unexpected common ground between opposing players when they are finally brought face to face, itself something of a movie cliche. Much is made of Gökce’s Turkish heritage, but more subtle (and indeed more affecting) is the way Tobias recites the rules of the in-flight instruction manual with the air of a religious mantra, a calming ritual during a moment of crisis.
“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind” runs the opening quotation, attributed to Gandhi, and clearly placed there to ensure that the most casual viewer understands Vollrath’s intentions, even as they become immersed in the frequently nail-biting action. Whether or not you buy into it is a matter for debate, but you’d be hard pressed to read the film’s final confrontation as victorious, whatever your political predilections.
• 7500 is on Amazon Prime
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Source: The Guardian