Watching a movie there is often a push-and-pull where one’s head fights their heart (or vice versa). Logically speaking, the characters are acting in incredibly dumb ways, ways sure to result in poor outcomes. Emotionally speaking, the characters are trapped within their situation and unable to think rationally about it. As audience members, the question becomes whether or not we can accept the feelings of the characters and the way they manifest. The question is relevant to the new film, “7500” (the code for a hijacking), written and directed by Patrick Vollrath.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Tobias Ellis, the co-pilot on a plane traveling from Berlin to Paris. En route, four terrorists storm the cockpit and one makes it inside. The captain is injured in the struggle, but Tobias knocks the terrorist out and maintains control of the plane. The three remaining terrorists then attempt to gain access to the cockpit by threatening the lives of passengers and crew. Making matters worse for Tobias, he has a relationship with one of the crew members and contemplates letting them into the cockpit so that he doesn’t have to see people get hurt.
Logically, this is terrible. One of the horrid lessons of 9/11 is that all passengers have a duty to attempt to take the plane back from terrorists in the cabin (a duty these passengers fail to perform) and that all people in the cockpit have to prevent, at all costs, terrorists from taking control of the plane.
The rationale is simple – as we learned in September 2001, planes can be used as weapons to inflict far greater harm to humanity than simply ending at the deaths of those on board (that “simply” in no way reflects a discounting of those lives, but rather a look at raw numbers). Terrorists controlling the plane kills both those on board and those in whatever place the terrorists hit with the plane.
So, in “7500,” members of the audience must pause as Tobias seems momentarily willing to cede control of the cockpit. Is this emotional response believable in light of the reality of the situation?
This critic would argue that it isn’t. It is true that Gordon-Levitt is wonderful eliciting a tremendous emotional response of a man under severe duress. Whether Tobias is angry or scared or unsure or any other emotion, the actor delivers them all and makes not just each believable, but the transition from one to the next. However, no degree of acting on Gordon-Levitt’s part is going to make giving up the cockpit seem believable; there is no indication whatsoever that those being threatened with death at the hands of the terrorists in the cabin get to live if the terrorists make it into the cockpit.
Now, despite my having spent several hundred words explaining this issue, I will note that it is but a slight falter in what is otherwise a tremendously successful film. That is, if movies on the subject of terrorism don’t bother you and you have no problem with the concept of the above, you’re going to truly enjoy “7500.” If the genre doesn’t bother you but you don’t buy the reaction, you’re still going to like what you get.
Taking place almost entirely inside the cockpit, Vollrath somehow throws one new situation after another into the film, constantly shifting the dynamic. The space is appropriately cramped and the camera angles limited, but “7500” never feels stagnant. It is fascinating to see how the director keeps things moving and changing despite staying within this confined area.
This last is particularly true when Vedat (Omid Memar), the youngest of the terrorists, enters the cockpit. The movie is not hugely focused on the “why” of this whole thing taking place, regrettably opting for the easy “they’re terrorists who believe that they’re following some version of Islam,” and while we never fully understand Vedat’s motivations, we do see the conflict inside of him, we do see his regret and uncertainty. However Vedat got to where he is in the film, he is, when we get to know him, just as trapped as Tobias. It is a thoughtful turn away from the otherwise overly rote idea of “terrorists” put forward both here (with the other hijackers) and in many other films and while it would be easy to say that this particular movie is not about the terrorists but rather about exploring what happens in the cockpit, the existence of Vedat belies the notion. That is, defining him in something closer to three dimensions doesn’t remove the fact that the other hijackers are two dimensional.
In the end, “7500” very much feels likes an experimental film asking the question just how long a movie can stay in one small location (although there are moments outside the cockpit) before it runs out of steam. Vollrath and Gordon-Levitt offer up a work that shows that the answer is “a long time.” It may be an imperfect offering, but, particularly with Gordon-Levitt’s performance, it is engaging nonetheless.
photo credit: Amazon Studios