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In this intensely silly and boring drama, a German activist talks about throwing bombs into the consciousness of the masses. What we actually get is the dampest of damp squibs thrown into a not especially flammable nest of 70s hairstyles and furniture.
So here, for what seems like the umpteenth time in cinema history, is a reconstruction of Operation Thunderbolt: Israel’s audacious commando mission in 1976 to rescue the passengers on an Air France flight from Tel Aviv, hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and members of West Germany’s Revolutionary Cells group, and flown to Uganda’s Entebbe airport, where the terrorists were given sanctuary by the deeply unstable President Idi Amin. The dramatic rescue became an integral part of Israeli pride and patriotism, and changed the course of world history – in that its acclaimed success, along with the SAS triumph at London’s Iranian embassy four years later, helped to make Jimmy Carter look like a weakling and a loser for failing to rescue US embassy staff held hostage in Tehran, and ushered in the reign of Ronald Reagan.
Three quickie movies about the Entebbe raid were rushed out in the late 70s. This new one is directed by José Padilha (who made the excellent and germane documentary Bus 174), written by Gregory Burke and evidently based on British historian Saul David’s 2015 study Operation Thunderbolt: Flight 139 and the Raid on Entebbe Airport. It has been noted for downgrading the importance and heroism of commando leader Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu, brother of Benjamin, who was killed during the operation. The film shows him dying more quickly, and more inconsequentially, than had previously been thought to be the case. But the dullness swamps any revisionist impression this could have made.
The film is full of clunky dialogue with cardboard characters explaining stuff to each other about Palestine, the Holocaust and German guilt. And the most exasperating miscalculation is to imagine one of the commandos having a girlfriend who is a dancer, currently performing in a modernist piece with the Batsheva Dance Company – and to have the all-important climactic “raid” scene intercut with the performers going through their routine. Maybe the idea is to suggest that the rescue was a choreographed display of power. But all the excitement, the tension, the power of this scene is completely ruined by this distracting and supercilious juxtaposition of middleweight artiness. Then we have to sit through an excruciating and embarrassing display of dance over the closing credits. Perhaps a film entirely about this dance company might have worked.
The German terrorists are portrayed with unbearable studenty earnestness. Rosamund Pike, sometimes with glasses and sometimes not, plays Brigitte Kuhlmann in a dodgy wig. There is a heart-sinking scene where she is shown giving an emotional speech into the receiver of a payphone and then being told the phone isn’t working. Well, that is the point, and her words are simply cathartic. But if the Academy awards ever invent a special U OK Hun? Moment prize, then Pike’s monologue into the dead phone will be a frontrunner.
Daniel Brühl plays her troubled comrade Wilfried Böse – the role notably taken by Klaus Kinski in Menachem Golan’s Operation Thunderbolt (1977). He looks less than completely convinced by his own dialogue, though his German accent is better than Pike’s. Wilfried is the terrorist with a conscience, disturbed at the thought of looking like a Nazi – when the Israelis show up, he is the one who tells the cowering hostages to take cover, implying a humane decency that his Palestinian counterparts supposedly lack. Eddie Marsan, in frankly weird makeup, plays hawkish Shimon Peres and Lior Ashkenazi is the more cautious Yitzhak Rabin. Nonso Anozie is relatively restrained as Idi Amin.
Paul Greengrass’s United 93 got its own subject right by focusing with laser intensity on the actual horror at hand. Spielberg’s Munich had a dramatic competence and robustness that kept it alive. And Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, about the Osama Bin Laden killing, flawed as it was, did at least deign to give us a strong, clear action sequence at the end with a sense of jeopardy. But Entebbe manages to fudge the whole business, depriving us of old-fashioned action movie excitement, while implying that the politics are there to be contested by the variously sly or careworn Israeli politicians and the anguished German revolutionaries, with the Palestinians treated as also-rans. It’s a film which stays glumly on the tarmac.
Source: The Guardian
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