Though marketed as a somewhat cheesy, Liam Neeson-esque thriller, writer-director Patrick Vollrath’s debut 7500 (streaming free on Amazon Prime) has a surprisingly decent amount of heft to it and is anchored by yet another rock-solid performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt. One of the more vastly underrated contemporary actors, JGL has continuously proven his talents in everything from 50/50 to Looper to Don Jon. He keeps that streak going here, offering up an understated, everyman performance as Tobias Ellis, co-pilot on an ill-fated commercial flight from Berlin to Paris.
Following an eerie prologue of surveillance video, showing what we immediately recognize as two soon-to-be hijackers wandering the concourse of the Berlin Airport, the movie shifts to what will be its sole location for the duration of the film—the cockpit interior. (“7500” is the international aeronautics radio code for a hijacking.)
Ellis shares a wink with a flight attendant (who we soon learn is not only his girlfriend but the mother of his son) and then joins the Captain (Carlo Kitzlinger) in going through the motions of the standard pre-takeoff checklist. They chat about nothing, they flick a few knobs, and, before long, are underway. We’re watching two average men on a routine flight, even as we know all hell is ready to break loose.
Sure enough, the mayhem begins within minutes, as one of the terrorists gets into the cockpit, armed with a shard of glass. Even when Ellis finally manages to get the situation at least a little bit under control, the palpable sense of dread is still there, and our only window to rest of the plane is the small, black-and-white screen showing a fish-eye view of the space immediately outside the cockpit door. Are there just two other terrorists? More? We don’t know. And that deliberate decision to keep us in the dark is just one of the many that Vollrath wisely makes to ramp up the tension and escalate the sense of terror.
At the same time, the verisimilitude (and the fact that the film unfolds in real time as a locked-room thriller) helps the fictional 7500 take on the feel of a dramatic reenactment, reminiscent of, say, Paul Greengrass’s superb 2006 film United 93. This is a very straightforward story (hijackers storm cockpit, pilot battles to get control of the plane and keep the passengers safe), but the sparkling script by Vollrath, coupled with the tight-quarters cinematography by Sebastian Thaler, elevates the film over similar fare. There’s not a bit of 7500 that doesn’t feel grounded in reality, whether it’s the pilot jargon or the horrifying unfolding of the events over the film’s super-efficient 90 minutes.
It’s a safe bet that 7500 won’t be shown as in-flight entertainment anytime soon (COVID travel restrictions or no), but standing on the shoulders of what is largely a one-man show by Gordon-Levitt, the film breaks through the clouds to be among the better offerings so far this year. Keep your seatbelts securely fastened.