Although the plane hijacking genre already reached its peak in the mid-2000s, every once in a while a film comes along that attempts to capitalize on audiences’ decidedly post-9/11 xenophobic fears. This year, that is the German thriller 7500, and while the story may not be a good look for 2020, a strong performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes it entirely watchable.
The movie follows the American pilot of a German airliner as his plane is hijacked by a group of terrorists on a religiously-inspired suicide mission. It’s a simple premise that lends itself to a lean thriller clocking in at just a bit over ninety minutes, but the thoughtful twist that could have allowed this to stand out among a problematic genre is largely missing.
There’s a lot of obvious potential here for the film to say something more important, such as commentary on the indoctrination of youth into extremist religious sects, but the script almost always goes for the lowest common denominator. As a result, it ends up feeling mostly outdated and misguided.
The character development also could have benefitted from some more depth. The movie pretty much throws the audience straight into the action with only a brief introduction. While the protagonist is sympathetic, his backstory is disappointingly generic. On the other hand, the antagonists are all cartoonishly archetypal.
That isn’t to say that the film doesn’t work — in his feature debut, director Patrick Vollrath proves that he is a very talented filmmaker, milking every ounce of tension out of the script and premise. It’s just that a majority of audiences will find the story a tad too familiar for their tastes, all of the twists and turns being not too unexpected.
Vollrath does have complete control over the camera and use of space in his movie, lending itself well to the race-against-the-clock nature of the narrative. Particularly impressive is that the film relies more on reactions than legitimate action, a majority of the first half taking place over a video monitor through which the pilot protagonist communicates with the hijackers.
The cast also brings a lot of emotion to the movie. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in a much-welcome leading role after spending a few years off the radar, is at his best ever, especially in the enormously stressful first half. Omid Memar also gives a memorable turn as the least caricature-like of the antagonists.
Patrick Vollrath’s 7500 is a well-crafted film, but one can’t help but wonder why movies like this are still being made given our greater cultural sensitivity. Still, as a free streaming option for Prime members, it’s worth a watch.
7500 streams on Amazon Prime beginning June 18.