7500 (2020)

“Nice airplane. Two wings, two engines.”

There’s an immediacy to the filmmaking on display throughout 7500 which makes up for the fractured picture’s intentionally muted storytelling, at least long enough to pull us into its flight plan before abruptly deploying the landing gear. Up in the air though, it’s all about raising heart-rates and shoring up the high-flying stakes, using a mostly compromised fuselage as a vessel to spike our heart rates. I literally found myself pacing back and forth early and often, which is my clearest way of saying that 7500 achieves what it sets out to accomplish. Unfortunately, by the end, I found myself wishing it had landed at a richer final destination.

Much to its credit, 7500 feels more authentic to the shared dialogue, the pre-flight checklists, and all of the the many adjustments in between than any other aviation film I’ve seen of late. It’s obvious they did the work to advise with an experienced flyer. Better yet, the camera gives us the feeling that we’re there alongside co-pilot Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Captain Michael Lutzmann (Carlo Kitzlinger), the latter a vet and the former an 31-year-old American. It’s smooth sailing to start, yet as is clear from the comprehensive CCTV footage early on, layered into a red-eye flight from Berlin to Paris, things are about to go awry.

Terrorists ambush the cockpit. Tobias has to stay cool, calm, collected. It’s all visceral and nail-biting. Personally though, I think the best aspect of 7500 comes from the exacting choices made early on. We all know it’s going to go off the rails and spiral out of control, but we don’t necessarily know how that will happen. There’s a lot of power to bad had there, and a worse film would have manipulated that overhand grip even more than 7500 already occasionally does, especially when it comes to race relations. It’s actively empathetic enough to escape any accusations of jingoism or xenophobia, and despite the flaccid finale, 7500 knows when to dial things up and when to dial them down. When to coast on auto-pilot and when to thrust the throttle.

As a self-contained thriller, 7500 sticks the landing without so much as a single sign of turbulence. But as a drama, not even a strong performance from the fresh out of hibernation Joseph Gordon-Levitt can imbue the plot with the depth or the humanity to fill all of the airplane’s seats. 7500 shows technical prowess in its ability to shoot a confined space with such fluidity and ease, yet by the time this thing comes to a surprise halt, you realize it’s little more than an exercise in depicting the worst day of a pilot’s life. That’s fine and admittedly arresting for large stretches of time, even though the picture doesn’t really have anything particularly insightful to say about sacrifice or survival either.

“I can’t open the door.”

Rating: 3 out of 5

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