7500 is a visceral thriller that makes the most out of a single confined space and uses a real-time gimmick to create tension. As a significant chunk is simply focusing on one actor’s reactions means that main actor better be pretty dang good. But by casting steadfast thespian Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the role, it works. 7500 refuses to go big sized “Get off my plane!” blockbuster wackiness which helps it steer out of some genre clichés but it also directly steers into others. While the movie does a good job for generating sympathy for some characters, for others it falls flat. But as far as thriller movies go that are set in a single location, it is pretty innovative.
Tobias (Gordon-Levitt) is a co-pilot on a European flight and is looking forward to spending time with his girlfriend and mother of his young child, Gokce (Aylin Tezel), who happens to also be a flight attendant on this ride. Things go smoothly for the first few minutes but after taking off, terrorists storm the flight. Soon the pilot is gravely injured and one terrorist is knocked unconscious but Tobias retains control of the plane behind the securely locked cabin door. However, now outside the door crazed terrorists are holding the entire plane hostage, threatening to kill passengers and crew if Tobias doesn’t open up. Things get more complicated as the terrorist Vedat (Omid Memar) may not be a true believer in the cause while Tobias has to get the plane down soon singlehandedly, literally since his arm was injured in the attack, or else they will run out of fuel.
Gordon-Levitt does a whole lot of looking over the shoulder acting as the monitor to outside the cabin is behind Tobias so he keeps sneaking a peek at the chaos unfolding that he is helpless to stop. It is a realistic performance in a movie that strives for you are there realism and immediacy by such tricks as the entire movie unfolding in real time or the lack of musical score. It is certainly effective, placing the audience right beside Tobias as everything goes to hell outside his door.
But since this is a movie, there are a few tired genre conventions. Of course at one point the terrorists threaten his girlfriend. There’s one early scene of Tobias and his girlfriend being somewhat cute together so naturally she’s going to be kidnap bait to raise the stakes. The closest the movie gets to Air Force One style bombast is when Tobias encourages the passengers to attack the terrorists. It’s a big speech moment and Gordon-Levitt predictably nails it. The movie opens up with security camera footage of the terrorists at the airport procuring the “weapons” they used, which was compromised of buying a couple of wine bottles which they fashioned into shivs. A potential question about where is the Air Marshal to stop this chaos is resolved with dialogue saying there was no Air Marshal on the plane, thereby sparing the movie of the airplane highjack requisite scene of someone taking out the Air Marshal before the attack.
The terrorists are a bunch of terrorist clichés, despite the attempts to give Vedat some depth. The main guys are incredibly nasty, especially the one outside the cabin who keeps threatening to off people unless he gets in. They are a constant threat in the film, sometimes personified a repeated dull banging on the door and the implied violence is really harrowing. But they don’t have much nuance to them, just hollering bloody murder the whole time, and one moment when a terrorist encourages the plane to crash is almost a bad parody of terrorist movie clichés. The terrorist at the centre is Vedat and Memar is very good at showing creeping panic. There are multiple moments near the end where the movie seems to be trying to generate sympathy for Vedat, however since the movie has steadfastly underlined that these are bad people doing bad things, it’s hard to care even when Vedat gets a weeping phone call with his mother. Memar and Gordon-Levitt have the most back in forth in the movie, and some of their exchanges are really dramatic, like how Tobias tries to coax the kid back from the edge while also saving the plane.
The movie unfolding in real time is a bit of a gimmick but mostly keeps the tension high. Unfortunately, there is a bit too much of airline flight minutiae at the start which starts to feel like busywork padding as Tobias and the pilot jaw back and forth about pre-flight checklist and what to do with latecomer passengers’ baggage. It’s almost 20 minutes of airplane technobabble that lulls the characters into a sleepy sense of security which is shattered when the terrorists attack. The movie features a lot of slow push-ins on the security monitor outside the cabin door which feels appropriately menacing.
7500 is an effective thriller, if very nasty and uncomfortable. While its attempts at adding layers to one of the villains falls flat it is extremely good at being an immersive, gripping experience with a dependable performance from a dependable actor. Once it starts going it’s a straight shot of intensity until the end.
Director: Patrick Vollrath
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Omid Memar and Aylin Tezel