A pilot must defend the cockpit when terrorists attack during a flight from Berlin to Paris in 7500, the feature debut from German director Patrick Vollrath, which arrives on Amazon Prime this week. It’s a German, Austrian, and American co-production starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, with parts in English and others in Arabic, Turkish, and German. That makes this a bit of a strange beast to begin with but add in that it’s told in real time, mostly shot on handheld and almost entirely in one location with no score and you’ve got a film that at its best is a tense experimental thriller and at worst a cliched disaster movie. One does not cancel out the other but it’s very much worth a watch.
Tobias Ellis (Gordon-Levitt) is a US pilot living in Germany with his Turkish girlfriend, who works as a stewardess. They are both flying a standard passenger jet from Berlin to Paris when a group of terrorists tries to storm the cockpit. One gets in before Tobias manages to get the door shut, while others are stuck in the cabin of the plane with the passengers and cabin crew trying to control the situation.
With highly naturalistic and understated performances from Gordon-Levitt and Carlo Kitzlinger as the plane’s captain, Michael, the start of 7500 leans heavily into realism. Opening with CCTV footage of Berlin airport with only diegetic sound, the action moves into the cockpit where Tobias and Michael carry out standard checks, wait for errant passengers, and indulge in a bit of small talk. That’s where we spend the rest of the film’s 92 minute runtime while contact with the rest of the plane is via camera or phone.
7500 – or the first half at least – is a fascinating genre mix. At times so realistic as to feel uncomfortable – like United 93 only fictional entertainment – at others so intensely claustrophobic it feels like a shark movie in the vein of 47 Meters Down where our hero is trapped in a cage at the bottom of the ocean with sharks constantly battering the door, there’s something fresh, vital, and exciting here. Pilot Tobias is no buff one-man-army, he doesn’t make stupid choices and what’s at stake feels real and important, posing ethical dilemmas that don’t feel cheap.
Sadly the second half of the film doesn’t fare so well as Tobias attempts to negotiate with 18-year-old terrorist Vedat (Omid Memar). Quiet precision and pressure cooker tension are replaced by implausible scenarios, noisy histrionics, and B-movie sensibilities. While the first half might have felt uncomfortably close to a 9/11 scenario, by the end that’s completely out the window.
It’s not Memar’s fault, who is sympathetic as the young German Muslim, but more that Vollrath’s script veers away from realism toward sensationalism, which strangely feels far less sensational. A final act which sees the two go head to head actually begins to drag.
7500 is the emergency code for a plane hijacking – a fact that not a lot of people know, meaning it’s hardly an easy sell for a movie that’s far from perfect but shouldn’t be overlooked. With this and The Vast Of Night, Amazon Prime is giving a great forum to new directors with distinctive styles during a time when virtually no movies are being released. If 7500 stumbles in the second half that doesn’t detract from the exciting new voice on display here, nor the sterling work of Gordon-Levitt who we haven’t seen enough from recently.
If it’s a three star movie then, it’s a four star first half with a two star end – not a mediocre film but one that wasn’t quite able to sustain the promise it held. But the promise of glory which honorably fails is surely far better than a film that never shot for the moon in the first place.
An ambitious and unusual thriller that doesn’t quite land, 7500 is no disaster, more it’s an Icarus project that flew a bit too close to the sun.
7500 is available on Amazon Prime from 18 June.