Amazon Studio’s latest release is timely — the world is locked-down, the airline industry grounded, and most would-be passengers won’t be boarding a plane for the rest of the year (or more). 7500, from German writer/director Patrick Vollrath (Oscar nominee for the short, “Everything Will Be Okay”), won’t make those of us in this demographic miss being airborne though. It’s enough to spike the anxiety of even the most frequent of fliers.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“The Night Before”) plays Tobias Ellis, an American co-pilot on — what should be — a routine flight from Berlin to Paris. Shortly after takeoff, however, men armed with jagged glass shivs attempt to storm the cockpit. The two pilots just about manage to force back the assailants and seal the door. Both suffer serious injuries, with the captain’s proving fatal. Tobias is left to fly solo. With terrorists controlling the cabin and Tobias doing his best to hold the helm, he radios ground-control to report a “7500” — the emergency transponder code to signal a hijacking.
Unfolding in real-time, the story plays entirely from the confines of the cockpit. Much like the films “Phone Booth,” “Buried,” and “Panic Room,” 7500 is a claustrophobic thriller that leaves viewers gasping for CO²-saturated air. The narrative is limited to the observational tools at Tobias’ disposal — the plane’s intercom and monitors — from which he watches the mutiny unfold. The experience is hyper-authentic. Aircraft protocol and jargon feel kitchen-sink real, while music is jettisoned for diegetic sound — a menacing thumping on the door playing as the film’s score.
Perhaps where 7500 falls short is in a lack of an underlying message. There’s no central dramatic argument outside of a general condemnation of terrorism, nor are there many life-lessons to be learned. However, it’s best to judge the film on what it sets out to do, rather than on what it doesn’t. Here, it succeeds in triggering the “fight or flight” reflex for most of its 92-minute runtime. This is a thriller, and thrill it does.
I also applaud the inclusion of Berlin as the departure city. Berlin has been become the de facto epitome of multiculturalism, so the international flight leaving from there provides an opportune vehicle for linguistically robust characters. German is a precise language that is both assuring from our heroes and powerfully aggressive from our villains, particularly when screamed through a locked door.
Having been off-screen since “Snowden” four years ago, Gordon-Levitt delivers a visceral and gripping performance that really keeps the film in the air. While momentum ebbs in the final act, 7500 nonetheless maintains a cruising altitude throughout. It’ll have you practicing breathing techniques, chanting mantras, and reaching for the miniature bottles of gin. It’s not for those with a fear of flying.