It’s been a while since we’ve seen Joseph Gordon-Levitt on screen. The highly respected and critically lauded performer has been on a short hiatus to raise his children after starring in films like “The Dark Knight Rises”, “Looper”, “The Walk” and, most recently, “Snowden”. In fact, his biggest contributions since 2016 have been a pair of voice cameos in “The Last Jedi” and “Knives Out”. His return to the screen was so anticipated it became the selling point for a new Amazing Studios thriller “7500” about a pilot aboard a plane under attack by hijackers. Debuting at the Locarno Film Festival in August of 2019, “7500” received its official wide release this weekend on Amazon Prime with Gordon-Levitt’s return serving as its biggest selling point. It’s a good thing too because the actor’s performance really is the most impressive part of this film that, even with a fun claustrophobic setting, has a hard time fully escaping the familiarity of its pulse pounding narrative in a post 9/11 world.
“7500” is named after the Emergency Transponder Code for “unlawful interference” and is the code Gordon-Levitt’s Tobia Ellis reports to ground control as terrorists attempt to hijack the plane. The action is almost completely contained to the cockpit as Tobias finds himself trying to keep the terrorists out and land the plane with the passengers intact. As the terrorists threaten passengers, including Tobias’s girlfriend and stewardess Gökce played by Aylin Tezel, Tobias is forced into a nightmare scenario where logical and emotional decision-making clash and it all plays out in near real time. Gordon-Levitt does most of the heavy lifting as Tobias who is forced into one of the most frightening predicaments a pilot could ever have to manage and one that, thanks to his girlfriend being on board, has some personal stakes. While we don’t get much more character development for Tobias beyond that we don’t really need it. Gordon-Levitt’s relatable and invested performance, reportedly brought to life through mostly improvisation, effectively captures the terror of his predicament and watching him struggle with doing what he needs to do versus what he wants to do helps humanize him enough. It also prevents him from being that cliché invincible hero these hijacking movies usually feel the need to include. It’s easy for the viewer to put themselves in his shoes and wonder what we would do and how we would react. That, more than anything else, is essential to how effective this film turns out to be.
The setting and the fact that the action plays out in almost real-time combine to help create a pretty epic cinematic experience overall that compliments Gordon-Levitt’s standout performance. The entire movie, save for the final moments and a few security camera scenes at the beginning, is set in the cockpit of the plane keeping the events in close quarters and the action focused where it needs to be, on Tobias. The only things we know about what happens beyond the cockpit doors is what Tobias sees in the camera, otherwise it’s all him and the terrorists. The film doesn’t make things easy for Tobias either and thoroughly explores human behavior and decision making under stress. It keeps you on the edge of your seat with the added effect of the constant banging from the terrorists helping compliment the atmosphere helping us as viewers remain as uncomfortable and anxious as Tobias himself.
Not to spoil too much of the film’s final act but it’s the last half hour that I found to be the least enjoyable. Tobias comes face to face with one terrorist in particular, a young man named Vedat played by Omid Memar. He attempts to bond with the man and change his mind about his terrorist initiatives which would normally create an interesting dynamic. However instead it grinds the film to a halt ending the pulse-pounding drama and thrills that drove most of the picture up that point and turning the rest of the movie into a pretty generic standoff between men of differing ideals. Sure, it is interesting to see if Tobias is smart and slick enough to help change this terrorist’s mind and we’re kept wondering if Vedat is really determined to see his mission through, but once the film enters this final act it feels like a very different experience than the rest of the actiong before it shifting from an engaging thriller to a less-than-perfect attempt to humanize the main leads.
The finale isn’t the only thing that bothered me either. There are some pretty nitpicky things that can spoil the movie if you’re willing to look for them such as inconsistencies in their fuel versus flight distance and other plot holes that were pretty fun for me to research after the fact. The addition of a love interest for Tobias felt unnecessary where it would have been more interesting just for him to manage the potential guilt of human lives he didn’t actually know. The idea of a hijacking in general is also a pretty cliché film concept at this point and, even in a movie this fun, feels dated and maybe a bit xenophobic despite the attempts to humanize one of the terrorists. All this is a long way of saying if you WANT to find issues in this movie you easily can but you can just as easily turn a blind eye to these flaws and enjoy it for what it is, a decent and effective claustrophobic thriller.
“7500” has problems, some more obvious than others, but its effective use of a claustrophobic setting and an engaging lead performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt help elevate it beyond its flaws to become a fun experience overall. While the hijacked plane trope has long been overdone it’s still uncomfortable to see such events play out even in fiction and the way director Patrick Vollrath presents the story gives it a unique spin that makes it all the more terrifying to comprehend. While I don’t think it quite stuck the landing, the chaotic flight to the finish is what it’s all about and thankfully that makes up most of the run time. It might set itself up for immediate disqualification from in-flight viewing, but “7500” is a nerve-racking experience that’s worth the ride.