7500 (2020)

Premise: A pilot’s aircraft is hijacked by terrorists.

Patrick Vollrath’s 7500 is a tense and claustrophobic thriller about an airplane hijacking and the pilot’s efforts to keep control and guide the passengers to safety. Taking place almost entirely within the cockpit, 7500 quickly becomes a showcase of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s ability to command the screen with an intense and introspective performance. It is also an exercise in low-budget filmmaking and storytelling that utilizes limited set space.

Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a young pilot with a flight attendant girlfriend named Gökce (Aylin Tezel) and a 2 year old son at home. The film doesn’t spend too much time developing the relationship between Tobias and Gökce. Instead, 7500 takes a very methodical approach to its first act. We watch the pre-flight tasks of the pilots in the cockpit, punctuated by the naturalistic conversation between them. The sense of realism lulls the audience into a sense of routine and security.

It all carries a very “fly on the wall” feel and the film doubles down on that by not making a big deal of Gökce working the same flight that Tobias is piloting. We are treated to a cute back and forth between them and a peek into their home life through their dialogue. Fortunately, Vollrath wisely keeps the relationship between them contained to those small moments where a less confident filmmaker would contrive an issue or conflict between them to overcome throughout the movie. Thankfully, Vollrath is confident in his characters and the plot.

Once the hijacking commences, the film depends almost entirely on Tobias as a protagonist we can get behind. Despite having taken a break from acting recently, Joseph Gordon-Levitt proves once again that he is one of the most talented and empathetic actors of his generation. He is captivating as he wrestles with the internal stress of the situation, his conscience when faced with choices that could jeopardize innocent lives, and his overall resolve to survive. Gordon-Levitt helps expand the realism of the first act by delivering a strong performance marked by intense physicality within a small, mostly empty, space.

The terrorist characters, on the other hand, leave a bit to be desired. For the most part, they are your standard Islamic terrorist characters that evoke the bland, stand-in characteristics of an arc from post-9/11 TV thrillers a la 24 and the like. Save for the character of Vedat (Omid Memar), the terrorists are expendable and not given much dimension.

Memar’s performance as Vedat does give some much needed texture to the antagonists. Only 18 years old, it becomes clear that Vedat doesn’t quite carry the violent disposition of his fellow terrorists. It leads Tobias to employ a level of compassion toward Vedat. It’s Tobias’ compassion and the uncertain, yet volatile, energy of the pair’s scenes together that give 7500 a shot in the narrative arm and its most nuance. The scenes between Tobias and Vedat almost turn into a parent and troubled child dynamic at times, but the film still manages to never loses sight of the danger that’s present.

The expendable nature of the characters isn’t specific to just the terrorists, though. There are some intense moments involving peril for other characters that fall just a bit short. In the moment, these situations are enhanced by Gordon-Levitt’s acting as he does what he can to try to stop the terrorists from the limited confines of the cockpit. Yet, the film doesn’t do much with these moments after they pass. 7500 would have benefited from a deeper range of emotion throughout the narrative in response to the more intense actions of the terrorists.

Fans of Joseph Gordon-Levitt won’t be disappointed by this intimate thriller. His commitment to the material, the character, and his craft itself, is on full display in 7500. The scenes between him and Omid Memar are the stand out of this close quarter thriller. Despite being methodical in its dialogue and a slower burn narratively than a more conventional fare, 7500 is a solid thriller centering around a strong lead performance.

About the Writer: Matt Hurt is the creator of ObsessiveViewer.com. He also created, hosts, and produces The Obsessive Viewer, Anthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat Pizza Roll. 

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