' ' Cinema Romantico: 7500

Monday, September 14, 2020


Even if you did not know that 7500 was the aviation emergency transponder code for unlawful interference – read: hijacking – you sense straight away that director Patrick Vollrath’s film is about a hijacking nonetheless. The opening images are of airport security cameras, though the footage of conspicuously Middle Eastern men is less compelling than the industrial hum in the background, like the hidden track on Wilco’s “A Ghost Is Born”, immediately evoking an eerie, unsettling sensation. That hum is evocative of “7500’s” ace sound design, from which it extracts a ton of mileage, though the security images also epitomize the film’s limitations, using the men’s presumptive nationalities as a kind of code that it never rebukes. Alas. What’s more, it suggests these men passing through security as characters and that is never the case, not quite, more just the engines of “7500’s” plot, less an authentic drama than a cinematic exercise in generating and attempting to sustain suspense for 92 minutes. 

Aside from those opening images and a couple closing ones from the cabin of an airplane, “7500” takes place entirely within the claustrophobic confines of an airline cockpit. The crew boards, including First Officer Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and immediately goes about pre-flight routines. Gordon-Levitt plays the part with a stoic professionalism, hardly moving his face, a smart decision that pays off when the shit hits the fan. Over-emoting likely would have been too much for such a small space and so he reins it in, giving us space to breath even amidst such tension. His character is in a relationship with one of the two flight attendants, Gökce (Aylin Tezel), though despite the subtle, loving looks exchanged between them, and Tobias’s ensuing confession to the Captain (Carlo Kitzlinger) about their being together, can’t help but feel more like a narrative seed than true love.

Those seeds are everywhere. When the hijackers finally mount their assault, springing into action during meal service, only one of them reaches the cockpit, seriously wounding the Captain and hurting Tobias too, before the First Officer pushes the cockpit door closed and locks it. He brutally knocks out the hijacker and manages to jerry-rig some rudimentary handcuffs, though the hijacker merely being unconscious, not dead, means his awakening and attack must happen at some point. Nevertheless, in these moments, “7500” is at its best. Vollrath and his sound design team create a convincing, exasperating cacophony through the jet’s typical white noise, the constant squawk of the control tower and a hijacker repeatedly beating he cockpit door, futilely trying to break it down, with a fire extinguisher. It’s enough to drive you batty and though Tobias impressively keeps it together, when he finally hollers into the radio that he has control of the plane but, dammit, he needs a minute, you can sense the edge. The sound puts the whole sequence on edge.

There is a frightening dissonance that emerges between the sterile environment of the cockpit and the assumed struggle between terrorists and passengers in the back. That we never see precisely what is going on only heightens that dissonance further as Tobias clinically goes about the process of rerouting the plane to a different airport for an emergency landing, focusing on his job even as so many unseen lives hang in the balance. That kind of mood, though, while chilling and effective is not enough to carry the whole movie. And so upon realizing they cannot break the door down, the hijackers in back resort to threatening passengers’ lives. It is only a matter of time until they get to Gökce, forcing Tobias’s hand and asking the question of whether the life of someone we know is more valuable than the life of someone we do not. The lack of a true relationship between them, however, only unmasks this nominal drama as a screenwriting psychological text and robs it of much suspense. That lack of character also undermines the terrorists. 

Vollrath purposely keeps us in the dark, mirroring Tobias’s headspace. No subtitles are employed so when the hijackers communicate between themselves, we don’t know what they are saying or what they want. Even when they do briefly wrest control of the plane, we possibly infer what they are up to but don’t know for certain. That accentuates the unease, furthered in the rain-smeared window that prevents us from seeing exactly where they are headed, though the eventual denouement in which Tobias and a younger hijacker (Omid Memar) find themselves alone in the cockpit is when “7500” runs out of steam. That we don’t know their motivations means the conclusion must turn entirely on its own inherent suspense, which is fine, as far as it goes, but ultimately just one more trip to the “Dog Day Afternoon” well minus the eccentric, eerie poignancy. 

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