7500 is a harrowing thriller that evokes visceral memories of September 11, 2001. Islamic terrorists hijack a German airplane bound for Paris. The entire film takes place inside the cockpit in real time. There is no soundtrack or accompanying score. The savagery of the situation drives gripping tension until a somewhat deflating third act. It feels anticlimactic, but is handled with a thoughtful approach.
7500 opens late night at the Berlin airport. American first officer Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) preps a passenger plane for takeoff. He gets a quick kiss from Gökce (Aylin Tezel), his long term Turkish girlfriend and one of the flight attendants. Tobias is then joined by Captain Michael Lutzmann (Carlo Kitzlinger). They banter briefly before taking off into the dark, rainy sky. The plane hits weather turbulence before settling at flying altitude.
The captain and co-pilot see the first class attendant bring their meal on the security monitor. When they open the door, several men tackle the stunned attendant. A wild melee ensues before Tobias succeeds in locking the door. He and the captain are both wounded. As Tobias radios code 7500 for aircraft hijacking, the terrorists smash repeatedly into the cockpit door. It cannot be breached. Tobias watches the monitor in horror. They've brought a passenger to the cockpit. He will be executed unless Tobias opens the door.
Writer/director Patrick Vollrath shines in his feature debut. He delivers a taut film with zero excess fat. The story is straightforward and reactionary. Vollrath creates a volatile, claustrophobic atmosphere. The action in the cockpit is brutal in such a tight space. The same methodology takes place outside the door. Only the immediate area is visible. You can infer what is happening on the rest of the plane. Vollrath uses slick editing to create a frightening scenario.
Tobias knows the plane can be used as a weapon. He must protect the cockpit at all costs, even if that means sacrificing passengers. The character is forced to make gut-wrenching life and death decisions in the moment. The role is also physically limited. Tobias is primarily seated. He can barely stand up in the cockpit. The actual flying of the plane is never taken for granted, especially with an injured protagonist. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is extraordinary in his performance. He runs the gamut of emotional distress and resolve.
7500 does not have a Hollywood blockbuster ending. The finale is deliberative and realistic. Vollrath's terrorists have a jihadist agenda, but are not uniform in their adherence to it. This allows for a reckoning between the lead characters. There is no money shot action scene or exclamatory dialogue. The fever pitch of the climax slows considerably for this resolve.
7500 is well made and acted, but will be disturbing to some. Patrick Vollrath is not salacious or gratuitous with the material. But I did struggle to keep my emotions in check. The 9/11 style plot and hijacking scenes are difficult to watch. 7500 is produced by Augenschein Filmproduktion and Novotny & Novotny Filmproduktion GmbH. It will be available to stream June 18th on Prime Video from Amazon Studios.