Review: ‘7500,’ starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Omid Memar, Murathan Muslu and Aylin Tezel

June 18, 2020

by Carla Hay

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “7500” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“7500” 

Directed by Patrick Vollrath

English, German and Turkish with subtitles

Culture Representation: The drama “7500,” depicting an airplane flight from Berlin to Paris, has a cast of white and Middle Eastern characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: The flight is taken hostage by violent terrorists.

Culture Audience: “7500” will appeal mostly to people who like suspenseful thrillers.

Omid Memar in “7500” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

The dramatic film “7500” is the type of “hijacked plane” movie that is utterly formulaic and predictable, but the film does such a terrific job at maintaining a suspenseful edge that it’s somewhat easy to forgive the film’s obvious flaws. A good performance from leading actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt also makes the movie worth seeing.

Directed by Patrick Vollrath, who co-write the original screenplay with Senad Halilbasic, “7500” doesn’t delay its action-filled scenes, which start within the first 15 minutes of the film. Before that happens, there’s a little backstory presented about the movie’s main character Tobias Ellis (played by Gordon-Levitt), the mild-mannered American co-pilot of a German commercial jet plane that’s on a night flight from Berlin to Paris.

Tobias, who is 31, has been a pilot for about 10 years. His live-in girlfriend Gökce (played by Aylin Tezel), who is of Turkish-German heritage, is the mother of their 2-year-old son. Gökce is also a flight attendant who happens to be on the same flight as Tobias. Before the flight takes off, Gökce visits the cockpit to tell Tobias the bad news that they weren’t chosen for a bid on a new home that was their first choice, since the place was near a kindergarten that they want their son to attend.

Tobias is optimistic that something will work out, but Gökce is more panicked about it because they’re running out of time to find a new place to live. As Tobias tells the plane captain Michael Lutzmann (played by Carlo Kitzlinger), he and Gökce eventually plan to get married. Tobias also tells Michael that he and Gökce have been able to keep things professional while they’ve been working together.

There’s a slight delay to the plane’s takeoff because two college-age passengers (played by Max Schimmel Pfennig and Anna Suk) have checked in their luggage but have not yet boarded the plane. When the late-arriving passengers are on board, the plane (which has about 85 passengers) takes off smoothly.

Not long after the takeoff, the terrorists attack. There are four of them who are featured in the story: Kinan (played by Marathan Muslu), who appears to be the hijackers’ leader; Vedat (played by Omid Memar), an 18-year-old who follows orders; Kalkan (played by Passar Hariky), another henchman; and Daniel (played by Paul Wollin), a white German who has become a radical Islamic terrorist.

During the attack, some of the terrorists have stormed into the cockpit, and a big fight ensues. The terrorists are using broken glass as knives and have stabbed Michael and Tobias. Michael is severely wounded, but Tobias has been able to defend himself by knocking out Kinan with a fire extinguisher. Tobias is able to fight off further attacks by pushing the terrorists out of the cockpit door and locking it behind him.

Vedat, Kalkan and Daniel, who are locked out of the cockpit, continue to terrorize the passengers and try to break their way back into the cockpit. The situation escalates as Daniel (who is the most vicious one in the group) threatens to take lives if Tobias doesn’t open the cockpit door.

Tobias has been able to call for help to air traffic control, which is in communication with him during the pandemonium. (The movie’s title comes from the 7500 air traffic control code for a hijacking.) Tobias tells the authorities that he plans to make an emergency landing in Hanover. He also makes this announcement over the intercom to help calm down the passengers.

Meanwhile, Tobias is trapped in the cockpit with an unconscious terrorist, a plane captain who might be dying and the terrible burden of knowing that not opening the cockpit door could mean that innocent people could be killed. Tobias can see some of what’s going on outside the cockpit through a video monitor. The terrorists communicate with him by using the cockpit phone placed outside the door, which they keep battering in an attempt to gain access. And later in the movie, as if things weren’t stressful enough, it predictably starts to rain heavily while the plane is still in the air.

Tobias is written as someone who manages to keep a fairly level head during all of this stress and trauma, to the point where some viewers might think that his reactions are initially too calm for all the violence going around him. But an explanation for that is perhaps Tobias is just in shock. He definitely has some big emotional moments later in the film.

In the production notes for “7500,” Vollrath explains that he wanted to make the Tobias character the opposite of an action hero and more relatable to the average person. In other words, if this were a movie starring Bruce Willis or Liam Neeson, the main character would definitely make different choices.

Although many things that happen in “7500” are easy to predict, the movie is different from other “hijacked plane” films because almost everything in the movie takes place in the cockpit, not the passenger area. The production notes for “7500” mention that the filmmakers purchased a decommissioned Airbus A320 plane and made it into the “7500” film set. That authenticity makes a difference, since nothing about the film’s production design looks like a replica of a plane.

Tobias is undoubtedly the main character of “7500,” but it would have been a little better to get more of a backstory from the other characters, particularly one of the attackers who gets the most screen time. The movie makes some subtle references about immigration, but all of their backgrounds are mysteries.

As for Tobias, very little is known about him either. For example, viewers don’t find out how he ended up living in Germany or even why he wanted to become a pilot. The focus of the movie is “fight for your life in the moment.” As the debut feature film from Vollrath, “7500” is far from a masterpiece, but it shows that this filmmaker has knack for telling a simple story that hits a lot of the right notes for crowd-pleasing suspense.

Amazon Prime Video premiered “7500” on June 18, 2020.