Any time Joseph Gordon-Levitt appears in a film, or a television series, he is what is known as a “bankable star.” This meant he would deliver a haunting, highly textured performance, which would be reflected at the box office. (Remember those days?) Among some of his films are 500 Days of Summer, Hesher, Inception, 50-50, Looper, Don Jon, and Snowden, after which he took some time off to be with his young family. His latest film 7500*, is a story about the hijacking of European Flight 162 en route from Berlin to Paris. Now you might ask yourself what sets 7500 apart from at least ten other films with a similar theme, some of which include the most memorable United 93 and Air Force One. The answer might be a slightly different twist in the somewhat flawed script co-written by Senad Halibasic and Patrick Vollrath, who also directed.
With a time code scrolling across the bottom of the screen, indicating Gate D-29, the film starts out pretty much like an ordinary day at the airport with lots of people going through security and hurrying to their respective gates. The boarding is routine with the passengers warmly greeted by the flight attendants who help them find their seats and get ready to begin serving. Meanwhile, inside the cockpit, German Captain Michael Lutzmann, well played by former pilot Carlo Kitzlinger, and his American co-pilot, 10-year veteran Tobias Ellis, immaculately played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, are immersed in routine pre-flight checks, the complex symbols and numbers of which are displayed in a continuous scrawl. The instrument panel is brightly lit and almost takes on a life of its own.
One of the flight attendants is Gökçe (Aylin Tezel) who gains entry into the cockpit to see what the captain and co-pilot would like for lunch. As it turns out, she is Tobias’ live-in German-Turkish girlfriend and they have a two-year-old son named Deniz, and are in the middle of planning their wedding. She is also concerned that they missed the enrollment date for their son, but Tobias, in his very cool, relaxed, soft-spoken demeanor, tells her that it’s not a disaster. With the pre-check completed, the flight is now ready for take off. However, two passengers, whose luggage is onboard, are not on the plane and because of that, their luggage has to be removed with a potential delay. We then see two people running towards the plane and the removal is halted. So far, so good, right? The control tower gives them the go-ahead, with a warning that they may run into some turbulence, and off they go. There is a pilot security camera in the cockpit that shows the activity taking place in the cabin.
Suddenly, and from out of nowhere, three Islamic extremists try to breach the cockpit, with only the leader, Kenan (Muruthan Muslu), making it inside where he delivers a lethal blow to the captain, as well as stabbing Tobias, who is bleeding profusely. Despite that, he is able to knock out Kenan and restrain him. The other two terrorists, a very young and confused Vedat (Omid Memar) and the unrelenting Kalkan (Passar Hariky), continuously pound on the cockpit door demanding that they be let in, and I mean continuously pounding. As you might guess, they threaten to kill hostages with their homemade shivs crafted from glass chards. To save lives, Tobias wants to open the cockpit door, but the tower forbids him to do so. Air traffic control diverts the plane from its original destination to a stopover in Hanover, about twenty minutes away, for “refueling.”
The desperate 18-year-old Vidat, deciding he really doesn’t want to die, is finally allowed into the cockpit where he and Tobias find a common purpose and agree that one extraordinary action should not go forward. On landing in Hanover, the passengers, who have restrained the third terrorist, are allowed to disembark as we hear the disembodied voice of a negotiator, the results of which you’ll have to find out for yourself.
Getting back to the different twist on a familiar theme, one factor is cinematographer Sebastian Thaler’s capture of the claustrophobic, almost surreal, circumstances taking place in that cockpit where the action is centered virtually throughout the entire film. The occasional shaky focus endows the instrument panel with a profusion of dancing colors and shapes with the same technique in shooting the runway and airport lights. The other major factor is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s riveting tour-de-force performance which, despite script weaknesses, takes his character on an emotional roller coaster ride through myriad actions and reactions, but as the character, always comes back to “center,” to do the job for which he was trained.
*7500 is an emergency transponder code for a hijacking.