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Joseph Gordon-Levitt was probably attracted to “7500,” premiering on Amazon Prime today, as an acting exercise. How much can an actor convey in a very limited space, almost exclusively in close-up and with few of the tools of production like design, costume, even movement to assist? Gordon-Levitt takes “7500” as far as he can, but the film still stalls on the runway, unable to turn its limited perspective into something thrilling or insightful. In the end, it feels more like a cheap trick than a study in filmmaking restrictions or an actor's showcase. Worst of all, it’s always reminding the viewer of its construction, relying on shaky camerawork to produce tension but failing to do so, and almost defiant in its lack of actual characters.
After a brief prologue, "7500" never leaves the cockpit of a passenger plane. There is where we meet Tobias Ellis (Gordon-Levitt), the co-pilot on a routine flight out of Berlin that is suddenly and violently interrupted by a group of hijackers, shortly after take-off. In a tense sequence that kicks off the movie's action after a procedural first 15 minutes, at least three men rush the cockpit and one of them stabs the pilot before Tobias gets the better of him, knocking him out with a fire extinguisher. Tobias slams the door on the other two men and a war of wills begins. As the hijackers pound on the door (there’s so much pounding), Tobias radios to air traffic control and plots a course for Hanover, where they will land, refuel, and negotiate. And then the hijackers start bringing passengers to the cockpit door, executing them one at a time as they insist that Tobias opens the cockpit. Can he hold out while people are being killed, knowing that the whole plane could be taken down if he opens the door? And what about the fact that his girlfriend and the mother of his child happens to be a stewardess?
That last question is just about the only character development we get for Tobias. He has a kid and is in a relationship. And he’s an American on a German plane, which feels a little cheap narratively, a device to make him unable to understand some subtitled exchanges. Without spoiling anything, “7500,” which is the pilot’s code for a hijacking, becomes a two-hander between Tobias and a young Islamic extremist named Vedat (Omid Memar), who is clearly uncertain about his team’s intentions that day. We know just about that much about him, at least until a cheap heartstring-tugging phone call in the final act. Co-writer/director Patrick Vollrath’s commitment to a nearly real-time narrative is admirable, but it makes the characters on-screen feel like pawns instead of people.
“7500” reminds one that there’s a fine line between lean and thin. Gordon-Levitt does his best to work with what’s he been given, but it’s a surprisingly bland choice from an actor who’s been generally absent for a few years now (it’s his first film since 2016’s “Snowden”). Maybe after so much time off, he wanted a challenge, something to test his skill set before roles in films like Aaron Sorkin's “The Trial of the Chicago 7” which arrives later this year (or it could end up being next, of course). Sadly, in the scope of what I still expect and hope will be a long career, this layover won’t be remembered.
Available on Amazon Prime today, 6/18.