7500 Joseph-Gordon Levitt Patrick Vollrath

7500 is a hyper-minimalistic plane-hijacking thriller

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in German director Patrick Vollrath’s anxiety-inducing debut.

From a purely statistical point of view, the recurring presence of plane hijackings in Hollywood cinema should suggest that they are much more common events than they actually are. Of course, planes get hijacked in real life too (especially in the’ 70s and ’80s, the halcyon days of political plane hijackings), and the most significant historical event of my lifetime involved several plane hijackings (I’ll let you figure that one out). Nevertheless, plane hijackings are an event that the vast majority of humans will only ever experience through movies, which has almost instantly made them — a horrific event under every imaginable circumstance — kind of an action movie cliché. 7500, the debut feature by German director Patrick Vollrath, seeks to dismantle those clichés by staging a plane hijacking in the most unadorned way possible; it’s a laudable effort to leverage the naturalistic drama of a real-life tragedy into thriller dynamics. 

Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is an American commercial pilot living in Germany with his partner (Aylin Tezel), a stewardess who happens to be on the flight he’s now co-piloting alongside the captain, Michael (Carlo Kitzlinger). Sort of a fish-out-of-water in the German-speaking, partially-Turkish crew, Tobias is a consummate professional — something that comes in handy when the flight is hijacked by four Muslim extremists soon after takeoff. With the captain put out of commission early on, Tobias has to take over piloting the plane as he both struggles to meet the hijackers’ demands and tries to turn the tables on them.

On the surface, 7500 gives the impression of being a micro-thriller in the vein of Buried or Locked — one-location, hyper-minimalistic and relatively grounded thrillers that hinge much of their thrills on the incredibly narrow focus of their premise. 7500 is set almost entirely in the cockpit of the plane — any footage of anything else is glimpsed through security camera footage. The cockpit camera’s movements are fairly limited; for most of the film, the camera is trained directly on Gordon-Levitt’s half of the cockpit, which is in keeping with this idea of the micro-thriller. Yet the scope of 7500 remains more traditionally in line with our expectations of a plane hijacking thriller, even if Patrick Vollrath remains admirably restrained in his dosage. Nothing preposterous happens in 7500 — the drama is never ratcheted up beyond believability, thanks in part to the complete absence of a score.

Thus Vollrath’s utter dedication to slender, minimalistic plotting also becomes the film’s biggest flaw. There’s precious little life to these characters, since the film wastes absolutely no time getting to the action, and the nature of the film means there will be almost no additional exposition or character development as the film progresses. It forces 7500 to be so pared-down as to leave almost no room for error — and for its few narrative flights of fancy to be even more closely examined. Take the hijackers, for example: for the film’s first 45 minutes, they’re faceless Muslim baddies only one step removed from the ululating caricatures that permeated questionable American movies of the ’90s. Things eventually get a little more complex, but not by much — and not before we’ve already grown fairly tired of the stock clichés that they inevitably bring with them. Ditto another “motivational” narrative development that feels unearned so early in the film’s running time — but one that I probably can’t really discuss here.

Though there’s clearly more at play here than a down-the-middle stylistic exercise, 7500 is ultimately somewhat ill-served by its own spartan approach to the material. It’s an incredibly exciting idea on paper, the exact kind of no-frills thriller premise that I usually go apeshit for. But the truth is that the “what you see is what you get” approach has its inherent limitations, despite a strong performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and admirably exacting direction. ■

7500 is on Amazon Prime Video as of today, June 18. Watch the trailer here:

7500 starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, directed by Patrick Vollrath

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