You’re Joseph Gordon-Levitt and you’re playing the co-pilot on a hijacked flight from Berlin to Paris. The wounded pilot is barely conscious. There’s an Islamist terrorist inside the cockpit with you, and his weapon is a shard of glass wrapped in duct tape. Another two are outside, banging on the door to gain entrance — otherwise they’ll start killing the 85 passengers and crew. One of the flight attendants is your girlfriend and mother of your child; they’ve got her in a chokehold. But you can’t open the door. What do you do?
That’s the premise behind 7500 (available on Amazon Prime), an effectively claustrophobic but disappointingly formulaic pulse-pounder that wants to tie your stomach in knots for 90 relentless minutes. This feature debut from German director and co-writer Patrick Vollrath, whose 2016 short Everything Will Be Okay was nominated for an Oscar, is a virtuosic feat that only loses steam in the final third when it comes down with real-world credibility problems. It doesn’t help that the villains are demonized Muslims, and such casual ethnic stereotyping is a sore point in a script by Vollrath and Senad Halilbasic that can’t be bothered with providing social and political context, aside from a single reference to Muslim children being killed by Western bombs.
Fortunately, the reliably first-rate Gordon-Levitt is just the American everyman to provide 7500 with the rooting interest and besieged humanity it needs. The actor is never off camera as Tobias Ellis, the first officer who preps for takeoff with German captain Michael Lutzmann, ably embodied by former pilot Carlo Kitzlinger. Only a pop-in from flight attendant Gökçe (Aylin Tezel) indicates that Tobias has a personal thing going with this woman, who shares German-Turkish roots with the attackers. She and Tobias also share a two-year-old son, and she’s fretting that they just missed out on enrolling him in a school with at least a few German students. Tobias offers a calming, “This isn’t a disaster.” But something else is. And the movie rushes to fill us in.
It seems a few passengers have checked bags but haven’t boarded. The Captain says he won’t wait. He doesn’t have to. As if on cue, three hijackers try to barge into the cockpit. Only one, the leader named Kenan (Muruthan Muslu), succeeds. In a few split seconds, Kenan manages to deal the captain a lethal blow and stab Tobias in the arm. The pilot security camera shows the other two, played by Omid Memar and Passar Hariky, banging loudly on the cockpit door and making threats. Is that Gökçe they’re using as bait? Of course. Vollrath has clearly made a close study of United 93, in which director Paul Greengrass superbly re-enacted the 9-11 hijackjing of a plane that terrorists attempted to fly into the D.C. Capitol building.
Let’s pause here a moment to categorically state that 7500 is nowhere near the master class that Greengrass shaped from those real events. The movie actually cheapens the passenger uprising on United 93 by having Tobias get on mic to beg those on board to save Gökçe by overcoming the terrorists. “You can beat them,” he pleads. “They have only glass.”
With invaluable tech support from cinematographer Sebastian Thaler and editor Hansjörg Weissbrich, Vollrath traps us into the hothouse horror of flying in a tin can at 30,000 feet, as Tobias fights (in real time) for control of the plane to stick an emergency landing in Hanover. The film confines itself to the cockpit, and what could have been a drawback becomes the thriller’s strength. In seeing and hearing only what Tobias sees and hears, 7500 holds us in its grip. That is, until the cockpit is breached by Vedat (Omid Memar), Kenan’s 18-year-old accomplice on a suicide mission he doesn’t fully understand. The two men engage in a discussion of their lives as human beings instead of pawns in a political game — but even they can’t overcome the shallow screenwriting and the eyerolling moment when Vedat takes a call from his mother. Have the filmmakers no shame? Your chances for enjoying this will depend on giving up a search for depth and just strapping in for a B-movie hell ride.