From the opening frame in the Berlin airport, as we watch a young man go through security, 7500 immediately conjures a sense of dread. And I don’t mean in a bad way. However, one does get the feeling that this seemingly innocuous commercial flight from Berlin to Paris is not going to go as planned.
This Airbus A320 is piloted by Capt. Michael Lutzmann (Carlo Kitzlinger), a German with many years experience. His co-pilot is an American, Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), whose girlfriend, Gökce (Aylin Tezel), is one of the flight attendants. Everything is normal as Michael and Tobias run through their preflight checklist, then prepare for takeoff.
The first hint of something being off comes when one of the grounds crew informs both pilots that two passengers are not accounted for, but their bags are already on the plane. Michael makes the hasty decision to remove the luggage instead of waiting for the two no-shows. But before that can be accomplished, two men are escorted onto the plane --- now they are ready to depart.
As everyone who travels knows, after 9/11 all the cockpit doors remain locked NO MATTER WHAT! The pilots have a visual --- a grainy black-and-white screen --- of right outside the door so they can see the flight attendant when she comes to take their orders and then bring their dinners. As Michael buzzes one of them in, terrorists armed with broken glass storm the door and force their way into the cockpit. Michael is badly injured, and Tobias suffers deep wounds to his left arm.
During the struggle, Tobias manages to subdue one of the terrorists and re-secure the door. While the remaining thugs try everything --- including holding another passenger hostage --- to break down the cockpit door, Tobias must navigate an emergency landing in Hanover, plus deal with the youngest member of the terrorist group, Vedat (Omid Memar), who is also in the cockpit, demanding that the plane not land.
7500, which refers to the code used in aviation to signify a hijacking, is not your average thriller. It is gripping from beginning to end. And what makes it even more unusual is that, accept for the opening scenes in the airport, the entire movie is filmed inside the cockpit. Directed and co-written with Senad Halilbasic by Oscar nominee Patrick Vollrath, 7500 is a unique experience.
In casting Tobias, Vollrath wanted the anti-macho actor --- someone with whom the audience could identify, kind of “an everyman”, and Gordon-Levitt is truly the perfect choice. He gives a startling performance as a quiet man who never expects to be in this situation, but must rise to the occasion. He is one of the best actors of his generation with the ability and talent to go from singing and dancing to playing a mild-mannered pilot who must manage this horrific scenario. It has been a while since we’ve seen him in a starring role, but here he is with one of his best portrayals yet.
For Vedat, Vollrath and his team did a wide search to find just the right actor and discovered then 18-year-old Austrian, Memar. Vollrath’s intent was to have an actor who grew up in Germany but never felt assimilated and Memar personifies that wish. The scenes near the end of 7500 with Gordon-Levitt and Memar are explosive and incredibly taut. We are never sure how this teenager will react --- and Memar definitely keeps us rapt.
As a student of Austrian director Michael Haneke, whose films do not usually employ musical scores, Vollrath took that path with 7500. Using only sounds generated by the Airbus and the passengers, sound editor Daniel Iribarren had a great challenge to incorporate all the ambient background noises while making sure the dialogue could be heard. The rhythm of the constant pounding on the cockpit door by the terrorists adds a whole other layer of anxiety and tension that leads to the riveting ending.
All these elements combine to make 7500 one of the most intense movies in recent years. This is Vollrath’s first feature length film --- he received an Oscar nom for a short film --- and hopefully it is representative of future work.
Opinion: See It Now!
There are not a lot of movies that can hold your interest when virtually the entire story takes place in a confined area. But that is exactly what 7500 accomplishes, a 92-minute thriller about an airplane hijacking attempt where 99.9% of the action is filmed inside the cockpit of an Airbus A320 airliner.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Tobias Ellis, the plane’s co-pilot who finds himself in a predicament no commercial pilot ever wants to experience. Although within a few minutes of the start it is obvious something dire is about to happen --- be it a hijack attempt or a crash --- 7500 maintains the intensity level for the film’s duration. Gordon-Levitt expertly portrays a seasoned flyer of 10 years, but his character has not yet ascended to the level of captain.
That distinction falls to Capt. Michael Lutzmann (Carlo Kitzlinger), who acts and sounds like an actual pilot, which Kitzlinger was for over 20 years with Lufthansa. Oscar-nominated director Patrick Vollrath got his wish when he found an actor who could not only be natural in a cockpit but who also had flying experience.
This helped Gordon-Levitt immensely, as he and Kitzlinger spent two weeks in Germany training on flight simulators. The result is that both men parry back-and-forth in total realism as far as the technical aspects are concerned with prepping an airliner for takeoff. And when a young terrorist named Vedat (Omid Memar) makes his way into the cockpit, he is later forced to help land the plane based on Tobias’ verbal instructions. The 20-year-old Austrian-born Memar, who becomes a reluctant hijacker not willing to die for the cause, meshes well with Gordon-Levitt.
The tension becomes almost unbearable when the terrorists threaten to kill passengers if the cockpit door is not unlocked. But Tobias knows he must stand by international aviation rules, despite his future wife, Gökce (Aylin Tezel), on board as one of the flight attendants and possible victims.
Vollrath co-wrote the screenplay along with Senad Halilbasic. Despite its predictability at certain moments, Jeanne and I were completely enthralled despite having to watch the movie on her cellphone. Part of the film’s budget included purchasing an actual airplane, such was Vollrath’s desire for authenticity.
Other than the technical conversations between the pilots and air traffic control --- which were written and rehearsed --- the rest of the action in 7500 is improvised by the actors, but of course with Vollrath’s input. Also, 7500 refers to the air traffic control code for a hijacking.
And of particular interest is that noted director and Oscar-nominee Paul Greengrass was an apparent consultant for this movie. His film UNITED 93, about the well-known passenger rebellion (“Let’s roll!”) aboard the third plane on 9/11 headed for the Pentagon, was nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Directing and Best Film Editing.
7500 is a unique film-watching experience. Gordon-Levitt has never been better.
Amazon Studios will release 7500 on Prime Video 6-18-2020.
Opinion: See It Now!