By John Hanlon
The concept of hijackers taking control of a large plane is a scary one and one that feels all too familiar to those who remember the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Patrick Vollrath’s new film 7500 relies on that familiarity to tell its own story about a hijacking told in a distinctive way. Instead of focusing on the attack itself, the director hones in on the cockpit, where pilots attempt to keep control of the aircraft while their passengers are under siege.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars here as a co-pilot, Tobias Ellis. There's a routine and everyday tone to the opening moments. Ellis chats amiably with pilot Michael Lutzmann (Carlo Kitzlinger) and engages in pleasant banter with a stewardess named Gökce (Aylin Tezel), the mother of Ellis' young child.
That tone changes quickly once the flight gets into the air. After a normal take-off, onboard terrorists attack the flight crew, leaving both Ellis and Lutzmann injured and locked in the cockpit with an unconscious would-be hijacker.
With Lutzmann suffering with an intense stab wound, Ellis takes over the flight. Aside from a monitor — which shows Ellis what’s happening right outside the cockpit door — the two pilots (and the audience) don’t know what’s happening on the rest of the plane.
That limited scope relies on a unique idea as the audience remains with Ellis for the entire movie. Co-written by director Patrick Vollrath and Senad Halibasic, the story relies on the audience’s vivid imagination to keep them intrigued about the happenings on the plane. The audience knows as much as Ellis does, which doesn't give them a lot to go on.
By keeping the focus on Ellis, the story therefore asks the audience to empathize with his plight and examine the choices he’s forced to make. It asks the audience several questions: If you only had the limited information that Ellis possesses, would you make the same choices he does? Would you follow protocol and keep the cockpit door locked or would you unlock it, hoping for a peaceful resolution? Would you change your mind if a person you cared about was threatened?
Although such questions are worth asking, the film suffers when the plot struggles to move forward. The concept of limiting the setting of a feature to one space isn’t a new one. However, many of the other movies set in one specific arena — such as Rope, 12 Angry Men and the more recent Locke — are able to move their stories forward through dialogue and character interactions. Here, the dialogue is more limited. There are conversations between Ellis and a young terrorist, conversations between Ellis and traffic control and conversations between Ellis and his fellow pilot but these conversations aren’t able to truly build on these characters.
In the past, there have also been stories that centered on one main character for a long period of time. All is Lost focused on one main character. Castaway focused on an isolated character for much of its running time. Both movies though found compelling ways to tell their tales. Here, though, a sense of monotony settles in after a while, especially when the story hits some predictable moments.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers an undeniably strong performance here despite the lack of dialogue. The actor’s facial expressions capture his anxiety, fear and pain as he grapples with the consequences of his decisions. At times, there’s even a deadness in his eyes as his character wrestles with his choices.
Those choices-- and the questions they raise for the audience-- are enough to make 7500 compelling enough but it's hard not to be disappointed when the feature doesn't do enough with them.