‘7500’ Is a Suspenseful, Must-Watch Thriller

Forrest Hartman

 

AT A GLANCE

7500

Directed by: Patrick Vollrath

Starring: Joseph Gordon Levitt, Carlo Kitzlinger, Aylin Tezel

Rated: R

Available on: Amazon Prime Video beginning June 18

Critical rating: 4 stars out of 4

 

German writer-director Patrick Vollrath has created one of the most claustrophobic, intense, well-acted movies of 2020, and these qualities are advantageous in a streaming media environment. Since the Covid-19 pandemic has largely put big-screen features on hold, we’ve had time to reflect on the difference between watching at home versus in a theater. The shared big-screen experience has joys that will never be recreated in one’s family room, but there are certain pictures that actually play better at home. I believe 7500 is one of them.

 

The terrorist thriller is streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime Video, included with the popular Amazon Prime delivery service, and the reason it feels appropriate in a home setting is that Vollrath and co-writer Senad Halibasic have gone out of the way to make it the antithesis of blockbusters like Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.  Much of the appeal in the latter movies is spectacle. The scope of those pictures is massive, as they transport viewers to different worlds, balancing dialogue and exposition against action sequences that are literally packed with mind-blowing special effects. 7500 is smaller in every way, which is a good thing.

 

The movie starts at a leisurely pace, with Vollrath introducing us to our protagonist, Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), one of two commercial pilots in charge of a flight from Berlin to Paris. Viewers enter the cockpit, where Tobias gets to know the flight’s captain, Michael (Carlo Kitzlinger), and works through routine pre-flight tasks. There’s not much space in the plane, and cinematographer Sebastian Thaler keeps the framing simple. This works well in a home-viewing environment. If you watch with the lights dim, you might even feel as though you are sitting beside Tobias and Michael, helping them prepare for the trip. Unlike the spectacle that makes Avengers films special, 7500 is intimate.

 

 

Vollrath does some of his finest character development before the plane leaves the ground. Before takeoff, we know that Tobias is in a serious relationship with one of the flight attendants. They aren’t married, but they live together and have a child. They also strive to keep their professional and private lives separate. Michael is established as a serious-but-amiable captain, and we learn that – despite Tobias’ youth – he has been flying for a decade. Each of these seemingly mundane details matters, and Vollrath refuses to rush through them with shortcuts. That patience pays dividends later.

 

Although 7500 begins at a trot, it hits full gallop about 20 minutes in, when one of several terrorists forces his way into the cockpit. This starts a chain of events leading Tobias to a series of near-impossible choices, all elevating the tension for the remainder of the picture’s 90 minutes. Throughout, Vollrath and Thaler remain focused on Tobias because this is his story.

 

Gordon-Levitt is a talent who has turned in impressive work in projects ranging from the Christopher Nolan thriller Inception to the cancer drama 50/50. Here, he is typically self-assured. Tobias is mild-mannered and kind, but also smart and disciplined. He doesn’t always make the right choices, and it’s enjoyable for viewers to imagine what they would do in his place.

 

But what is the right choice in an impossible situation? The movie is intriguing because it shows a good man doing his best to find hope in a terrible place. Saying that Gordon-Levitt’s performance is among the best of the year so far is minimizing his efforts since the cinematic year is so off-kilter. The supporting cast is also solid, but this is Gordon-Levitt’s film, as every twist centers on Tobias’s decisions. 

 

 

Vollrath makes the most of the confined setting -- something that could hurt a weaker filmmaker. In some respects, 7500 must have been easy to produce. A single location, small cast, and minimal set dressing all speed the shooting process, but these things come with restraints. When all the action is set in an airplane cockpit, there are no astonishing backdrops or special effects to use as a crutch. The weight of the storytelling is relegated to the script and its handful of actors … each forced to make up for the fact that the scenery is unchanged for 90 minutes. Again, this plays into the strengths of at-home viewing.

 

As long as one watches distraction-free, it is easy to get sucked into Tobias’s world. It is easy to feel his pain, his anguish, and his uncertainty. And “feeling” is what great directors make us do.

 

Author Bio:

 

Forrest Hartman, a Highbrow Magazine contributor, is a longtime entertainment journalist who teaches in the Department of Journalism & Public Relations at California State University, Chico.

 

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