Tobias (Joseph Gordon Levitt) has been flying commercial flights for over 10 years. However a business as usual flight from Berlin to Paris goes drastically wrong when armed passengers take control of the rear of the plane and demand access to the cockpit. Director Patrick Vollrath, in his feature debut focuses on Tobias’ arduous struggle in a film that never leaves the cockpit and never provides a moment to breathe, even when nothing is going wrong and while 7500 is a harrowing watch, it is hard to deny that the limited scope and persistantly commited central performance make 7500 just the right amount of devestating.
What strikes you almost instantly about 7500 isn’t the intense consequences of the unbearable choices that Tobias has to go through but the minimalist ways in which big moments are portrayed or glossed over. While never afraid of making bold choices, 7500 for all its discussion of terrorism and collateral damage never feels gratuitous, even with some unpleasant and harsh twists. The lack of any music or over the top sound effects heightens the reality that Tobias is living as he watches a small 9 inch screen depicting horrors no person should ever have to witness for ‘the greater good’.
Vollrath never sensationalises moments of torment but he also doesn’t rush them, often choosing to slow things down and almost freeze time to let choices or moments of violence settle, not just in Tobias’ mind but also your own. When the action starts it takes a few moments for the new reality to sink in, partly because of Gordon-Levitt’s cleverly delayed reaction but also because the initial moments are displayed on a tv screen, like something happening elsewhere, in some other plane. The reality of the situation takes time to emerge but when it does the shock and fear sinks in right away. The real-time gimmick here is utterly spellbinding until Vollrath changes pace as the film reaches its strangely quiet yet rushed finale.
Much like Tobias himself, a lot rests on Gordon-Levitt’s shoulders as whole stretches of 7500 hinge on his performance as it is more often than not the only source of sound aside from the ever present thumping of the attackers trying to get inside. His conversations with ground control while important to maintaining the story also highlight how utterly alone he is, stuck in a room with nothing to do but watch and wait. Our only source of understanding is a physical performance that is both helpless and tempered by underlying rage and fear. It is all over the place in the best of ways which only highlights how drastically the film shifts in its last 30 minutes as Tobias is turned into almost a prop. The shift is jarring and the sequence is a stark drop from the highs of a killer opening hour.
While Vollath wants you to struggle with the same choices that are foisted upon Tobias’ shoulders, he also wants to discuss the actions of those carrying out this hijacking. While an opening barrage of twists maintains a quick pace despite an often leisurely directing style, the final act feels like an unnecessary morality play that doesn’t really have any real push or pull or genuine discussion outside of meaningless small talk. Although constantly claustrophobic because of the tiny set, the sense of urgency and peril feels muted by mindless dialogue.
But that isn’t to deny the power of the story and how it intersects with very real human fears but in trying to justify actions that to many will seem like the actions of madmen, this thriller struggles. While the direction it takes in its final chapter is ambitious it doesn’t stand up to a script that is light on significant dialogue and convincing connections. 7500 is far more effective when it uses silence to make its point or to build suspense. When people are banging against the door at least you know where they are, when the banging stops, thats when things get scary. The unanswered questions here provide much to think on and anxiously squirm over and when those questions stop coming, the film stops moving, despite all attempts to inject some life into it.
While Vollath has directed a tight, nerve wracking thriller here it seems at war with a script intent on turning this horror into a think piece, a learning exercise that never emerges and while that may have come out in a script that made the dialogue as important as the actions of its characters, 7500 feels like two vastly different experiences with a plane hijacking ironically being the most enjoyable one.