Amazon's Hijacking Thriller '7500' Needs More Twists

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is effective as a pilot having a very bad day -- but where's the mystery?

7500 movie

Around the half-way point of 7500, the real-time airplane potboiler starring the eternally fresh-faced Joseph Gordon-Levitt that debuted on Amazon Prime last week, the banging really starts to get to you. As Gordon-Levitt's Tobias, a 31-year-old with a flight attendant girlfriend and a son back at home, redirects his Paris-bound plane to Hanover after a partially botched hijacking attempt, two of the attackers strike the door separating the cockpit from the rest of the plane over and over. They treat the impenetrable metal barrier like a hungry sandwich-maker treats a nearly empty container of mustard -- hit it hard enough and something will happen. 

For most of its thankfully brisk runtime, 7500 is a movie where you wait for something to happen. Following a brief opening that makes use of slightly unsettling security camera footage, director Patrick Vollrath, making his feature debut here after helming the Oscar-nominated short Everything Will Be Okay, puts you right the cramped front of the aircraft, where the American Tobias and his German captain (Carlo Kitzlinger) go about flipping all the switches and running the tests necessary for take-off. Like other star-driven, single-location thrillers like Phone Booth, Buried, or Locke, one of the finest examples of the genre, the movie makes an implicit promise to the viewer: you're not going anywhere.

As the terrorists onboard attempt to seize control of the aircraft -- the title, 7500, is numerical code pilots use to tell the air traffic controller they're being hijacked -- that fixed-location conceptual gambit mostly works as a way to generate suspense. Tobias can't see what's going on in the cabin, meaning he doesn't know what's happening to his girlfriend Gökce (Aylin Tezel) or the other passengers, and the physical limitations of the space provide plenty of opportunities for Vollrath, who also co-wrote the screenplay, to play up the inherent claustrophobia of the setting and the rising tension of the situation. How will Tobias fly the plane with a cut on his arm? Can he revive his injured co-pilot? What about the large attacker he knocked out and restrained with medical tape and a seatbelt? That guy is gonna break out eventually, right? 

The problem is that 7500 sets all of its logistical pieces in motion, checking every item off the list of potential plot demands and punchy action beats, without attending to the emotional or psychological cargo of the story. Besides caring about his son and performing the required duties of his high-stress job, Tobias is a blank slate, a slick-haired Boy Scout with no real noticeable flaws or even hang-ups. (His girlfriend does suggest his breath stinks at the beginning.) When Gordon-Levitt played Edward Snowden in Oliver Stone's largely forgettable surveillance drama Snowden, his do-gooder attitude was an asset because the movie was about an ethical dilemma, a morally righteous figure fighting a giant government security system. In this movie, he's given even less to play off of, particularly in the second half when the excitement should be skyrocketing and instead largely plateaus. 

7500 movie

And, without a dynamic character at the center, the movie must rely on plot, which runs out of fuel rather quickly. There's almost no mystery -- at least the Liam Neeson airplane thriller Non-Stop had the decency to include some Agatha Christie-in-the-sky sleuthing -- and the hijackers themselves are drawn in a stereotypical manner, with little effort made to understand their demands or the circumstances that lead them to this point. You keep waiting for the movie to provide a narrative twist or upend certain tropes, but the literal-minded approach keeps it locked in one mode. Nearly every element is as straight-forward as it initially looks.  

Never leaving the cockpit is a potentially provocative idea, a way to tighten the focus of the airplane disaster movie and ground it in realism after decades of post-Airplane ridiculousness, but there's a reason most movies don't unfold like an episode of 24 shot in a tin can. Cutting to different scenes and introducing new characters is fun; allowing actors to play off one another helps enliven performances and takes the pressure off the star of the movie to carry every scene. From a technical standpoint, 7500 skillfully squeezes its protagonist, and Gordon-Levitt proves compelling enough in the more demanding moments, but to what end? Sometimes when you hit the bottle of mustard enough times, you just discover that it's empty.

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Dan Jackson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.
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