Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tobias Ellis
Aylin Tezel as Gökce
Aurélie Thépaut as Nathalie
Carlo Kitzlinger as Michael
Paul Wollin as Daniel
Written and Directed by Patrick Vollrath
Following the tragedy of 9/11 in America, films focused on aircraft hijackings have been few and far between and have been a jumble of everything from nail biters to snooze fests, with the latter struggling to find ways to keep action interesting without being able to change locations. Feature debuting writer/director Patrick Vollrath is trying his hand at the genre with 7500 starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and though it touches on a number of tropes typical of the genre, it’s nonetheless a strong first outing from the German filmmaker.
7500 stars Gordon-Levitt as Tobias, a soft-spoken young American co-pilot on a flight from Berlin to Paris. Shortly after takeoff, terrorists armed with makeshift knives suddenly storm the cockpit, seriously wounding the pilot and slashing Tobias’ arm. Temporarily managing to fend off the attackers, a terrified Tobias contacts ground control to plan an emergency landing. But when the hijackers kill a passenger and threaten to murder more innocent people if he doesn’t let them back into the cockpit, this ordinary man faces an excruciating test.
The film’s opening credits rolling over the group’s entrance into the airport and journey through security is a fitting and stylish setup for the tone audiences can expect from the rest of the film, a quiet and tense affair with no music to outshine the film’s ongoings and leaving just enough mystery as to the motivations and planning of the hijackers.
As we enter the plane with Tobias, the film finds its first bit of pacing problems as the camera lingers in the cockpit and we watch him and the pilot Michael go through their checklists and get the plane ready for takeoff. It’s not an inherently bad introduction to our protagonist, showing his competency at his job and devotion to his stewardess wife and his inability to speak German, but the extended lengths of showing the two note each knob turn and step becomes a bit dull after the first ten minutes.
Once the action picks up and Tobias find themselves fighting off the hijackers, it starts to slip into cliché territory, but not in a way that takes away from the high-octane energy of what’s transpiring. Rather than putting the camera into the fuselage with the chaos, as films like Executive Decision and Non-Stop have, Vollrath makes the smart choice to keep the viewers in the cockpit with Tobias while all of the action goes on over the security camera.
The sole cockpit setting helps really drive up the tension in the plot and creates some of the most nail-biting moments in the film, from one hijacker actually making it into the cockpit to a plane full of passengers being used as hostages for the rest of the antagonists to get in. The dialogue does tend to feel a bit rote during these exchanges, Tobias making demands to the hijackers they won’t reasonably make good on and the latter talking in circles to try and get what they want.
The characters themselves aren’t the most unique or even interestingly painted, with Tobias honestly coming off as kind of a boring character at the start and Omid Memar’s Vedat coming off as a typical younger radical hesitant about the cause, but Gordon-Levitt and Memar’s performances help elevate the material. The Looper and Snowden star delivers a thoroughly powerful performance from start to finish and Memar helps truly sell his character’s semi-likability, but even as the latter shows some character development into a more nuanced role, the script never lets the former grow into anything more.
Gordon-Levitt and Memar give it their all and deliver strong performances and Vollrath proves to be a stylish director upon his debut, but the nail-biting tension and thrill of the story aren’t quite enough to minimize the flaws of its clichéd script, adding up to a thrilling but derivative affair.