7500 (Germany/United States, 2019)

June 18, 2020
A movie review by James Berardinelli
7500 Poster

Even though 7500 is not a long movie, shaving about a half-hour off the running time might have transformed it into a superior thriller. For roughly 60 minutes, this is a tense, nail-biting experience, fraught with danger and unfolding in a claustrophobic environment. Unfortunately, following a key narrative inflection point, the suspense starts to leak out like the air from a slightly punctured balloon as the screenplay stumbles through minefield of hostage movie clichés on its way to a predictable and moderately unsatisfying conclusion.

The entirety of 7500 transpires in real time within the confines of an Airbus A319 cockpit. To add to the verisimilitude, there is no musical score. Lighting is sparse (the flight is at night) and the only time we get a view outside of the small area where the pilot and co-pilot sit is when the camera focuses on the grainy black-and-white monitor that provides an image of what’s happening directly on the passenger side of the cockpit door.

The film’s title refers to the emergency code for a plane hijacking, so there’s no mystery about the core plot point. In the cockpit are German pilot Michael Lutzmann (Carlo Kitzlinger) and American co-pilot Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), getting ready for a routine short-range flight across Europe (Berlin to Paris). One of the flight attendants is Tobias’ half-German/half-Turkish girlfriend (and the mother of his young son), Gokce (Aylin Tezel). About 20 minutes into the movie, shortly after the plane has sailed through a bout of turbulence and reached cruising altitude, there is a cockpit breach. A small group of generic Middle Eastern terrorists, brandishing crude weapons fashioned out of broken glass bottles, storm the cockpit while refreshments are being served. Only one gets inside before Tobais is able to slam shut and lock the door. But, although Tobais is able to knock out the intruder with the help of a fire extinguisher, he suffers a serious wound to his arm. Michael, who has been stabbed several times, is in worse shape. The terrorists, intent on taking control of the plane but unable to penetrate the reinforced door, start threatening to execute hostages if they aren’t granted admittance.

First-time German director Patrick Vollrath orchestrates the film’s early moments with quiet confidence. The setup effectively establishes the normal rhythms of a flight from the perspective of those at the controls, although ominous undercurrents result from our foreknowledge that something bad is going to happen. When it does, the struggle is short and brutal and the ensuing cat-and-mouse game between Tobais (on one side of the door) and the duo of Vedat (Omid Memar) and Daniel (Paul Wollin) (on the other side) is elevated by the continuous ratcheting up of the tension.

7500 is not able to maintain the altitude it achieves during its early scenes. The last-act interaction between Tobais and Vedat feels artificial; the dialogue is as unconvincing as the terrorists’ motivations (they are taking revenge on the West for anti-Muslim acts). The more the production veers into the realm of melodrama, the less interesting it becomes. The real-time conceit becomes a trap in that Vollrath is unable to effectively develop any of the characters or circumstances. Even Tobais, who is on-screen for nearly every second of the 92-minute running time, is mostly a blank slate. We know very little about him and even less about the pilot, his girlfriend, or the terrorists.

The film’s technical acumen, which includes an accurate recreation of an airplane cockpit, gives the movie a sense of realism that doesn’t extend to all aspects of the screenplay. As a theatrical release, this would have been a disappointment. As a home video offering (it’s available for free to Amazon Prime subscribers), it’s more palatable. This one isn’t a bad high-concept thriller but, as is often the case with movies hampered by undercooked storylines, there’s a feeling that something better could have resulted from the same basic plot points.

7500 (Germany/United States, 2019)

Run Time: 1:32
U.S. Release Date: 2020-06-19
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Genre: Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1