7500 : Movie Review
(Author’s note: It is 1:19 in the morning as I begin writing after having just finished this film. This movie made me refill my glass of Scotch three times, and my Sunnydale High School t-shirt has sweat stains on it. Take that as you will.)
When faced with procedure versus the personal, what can you expect of human behavior? Are you willing to sacrifice those you love on the slim hopes for others to have a fighting chance to live? Is the ability to do the right thing – consequences be damned – something inherent in humans, or is it dictated by policy to minimize damage to financial assets or a greater loss of life? Director and co-writer Patrick Vollrath’s 7500 – named for pilots’ squawk code for a hijacking – winds us up in its opening credit montage and keeps us rooted to our seats, eyes and ears awaiting the assault which comes merely 17 minutes and 56 seconds into the film.
Look at it this way: at 17 minutes and 56 seconds, John McTiernan’s 1988 masterpiece Die Hard was just finishing John McClane’s character development as Hans Gruber and his cohort silently begin their takeover of Nakatomi Plaza. At the comparative time-stamp in 7500, a flight from Berlin to Paris is horribly interrupted and the lives of those aboard European Airlines flight 162 are forever changed by a handful of knife-wielding men. Beating the invaders back and shutting the cockpit door is First Officer Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), shown early to be the loving partner of crewmember Gökce (Aylin Tezel) and father of their 2-year-old son.
7500 is a short, near-real-time look at how regulations requiring self-sacrifice take precedence over feelings. This film absolutely darts past in the blink of an eye, ending almost as soon as it begins. We’re not blessed with any amount of musical score to amp up or decelerate how we feel about any given scene, left with the cold reality of the conflict at hand as Ellis follows one simple directive: never open the door. No matter what he sees on the screen which shows him what’s outside, he cannot give into demands even if it means a hostage meets a gruesome demise.
So lies the dilemma we face through the majority of this film’s duration. Can one person alone – in the face of certain death – be relied upon to do the right thing? In this instance, what is “the right thing”? To minimize casualties or protect one’s own existence? It’s a choice Ellis has to make with little time afforded him after beating an attacker unconscious and tying him up in a jump-seat. One of the terrorists, Vedat (Omid Memar) seems to have a conscience and cannot reconcile wanton murder with his team’s plan, but will that give Ellis enough breathing room to bring the plane down without further losses?
Vollrath and co-writer Senad Halilbasic’s intent is to jolt, to dramatize a modern-day reaction by asking us to look at a particular situation from a different light. Where they succeed is showing us through one person’s eyes – Ellis’ – a scenario we’d usually see played out showing the violence between terrorists and hostages. Instead, all we see is Ellis as he tries to land and end this as quickly as possible while hostages are marched to his door and executed when he doesn’t respond the way the terrorists want. After the opening prologue – shown through security camera footage of the terrorists going through security and meeting in a bathroom to avoid detection – 7500 solely takes place in the cockpit, going from standard preflight checks to bloodied corpses littering the floor in a matter of minutes. We’re never shown the rest of the plane; all interaction is done via the various communication systems between pilot and passengers, flight crew and ground staff, and whatever control tower happens to be in contact.
The film causes one to question the use of Muslims as antagonists, so heavily prevalent in pre-9/11 films (see James Cameron’s True Lies or any number of ‘80s action movies). Is this an artistic choice, or is it one based in xenophobia or stereotype? Or is it just a quick means to an end, being whittled down to an action movie trope? Or is it rooted in what hijacker Kinan (Murathan Muslu) claims to be revenge for Western military forces killing their families with impunity? While it might be something sadly and easily identified, we’re only given this barest of minimum effort to understand why they’re doing this and their eventual goal.
Our point of view stays with Ellis as he tries to neutralize threats through mediation and de-escalation, trying to appeal to any vestige of humanity in those holding knives to their hostages’ throats. Joseph Gordon-Levitt carries the full freight of this film, agonizing over his decision to retain command of the plane while innocents are slaughtered while he watches helplessly. This is one of his finest performances, having to calculate – sometimes tragically – the price of relinquishing control of the plane versus possibly having a shot at surviving this horror. He’s not a John McClane-style badass; he’s just some guy doing a job, trying to get himself and his partner home to their kindergarten-bound child.
7500 does in 90 minutes what some high-powered action films running twice this length dare not: make us care about an isolated incident and how the protagonist will get out of it. It’s a bottle episode of the highest order, willing to take chances with a non-hero as he navigates the best possible outcome for the people in his charge. The feeling of detachment pervades this film as Ellis is forced to make horrible judgments between the safety of one and the safety of the many from behind the relative security of a locked door. Vollrath’s aesthetics – the single location of the cockpit, the lack of musical underpinnings, and forgoing any other perspective – make this film a gripping, heart-palpitating, and unequaled experience.
Rated R by the MPAA for violence/terror and language.
Running time: 92 minutes.
Released by Amazon Studios and FilmNation.