Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Latest, ‘7500,’ Is an Intense Ride of a Film. Just Don’t Call It a Thriller.
Why isn’t Joseph Gordon-Levitt on the Hollywood A-list? This is what I asked myself while I watched his intense, measured performance as an airline co-pilot in Patrick Vollrath’s feature debut film 7500 (available now on Amazon Prime Video).
After a pre-title credit opening that features security camera footage of three different men in a Berlin airport, the crew arrives onboard the Airbus A319 to prepare for passengers and departure. It’s business as usual for the crew, which includes the captain, his first officer Tobias Ellis (Gordon-Levitt), and the flight attendants, one of whom is Tobias’s live-in partner, Gökce, mother of his 2-year-old son. Not long into the flight, three terrorists storm the cockpit with makeshift weapons to hijack the plane. Tobias partially thwarts them — two are shut outside the cockpit, one inside — and issues the standard emergency code for a hijacking: 7500.
What follows is a crackerjack 90-minutes that uses its limited set (the entire film basically takes place inside that cockpit) and spot-on supporting cast for maximum impact.
“One of my favorite movies is Lifeboat,” Levitt has said of the 1955 Alfred Hitchcock drama. “When you can constrain the setting like that, it really reveals a lot about the human story.” Levitt added, “This is an art movie. To be perfectly honest, you know sometimes distributors of this movie will call it a thriller. And I think they’re so wrong. It’s just not that. It never was that.”
Gordon-Levitt’s not wrong — the film 7500 has the intimacy and granular performances of great art films — but Vollrath, in his feature debut, makes this art film one of the most intense viewing experiences imaginable with little more than close-ups, claustrophobia and a cockpit. This could be the impact of the director’s way of working, which is what drew Gordon-Levitt to the project.
“He likes to leave the camera running for a long, long time,” Gordon-Levitt has said. “Let the actors just really immerse themselves in the reality of the story. And improvise. Just be there.”
For stretches of the film, the actor is mostly a reactor — triaging and assessing the situation; relying on protocol and psychological acuity when dealing with the remaining terrorists. When they threaten to execute passengers one-by-one, we see only what Tobias sees — the camera footage of the terrorists behind the cockpit door. Gordon-Levitt’s reaction shots are all you need to level up the intensity.
Tobias eventually makes a tentative connection with the youngest hijacker, Vedat. The young Austrian actor who plays this Turkish-born Islamic activist, Omid Memar, has the coiled concentration of the young Al Pacino. When the two protagonists are finally in the cockpit together, as Vedat vacillates between attempting to control the situation and encroaching hysteria, the cat-and-mouse balance of captor-and-captured is delicate and mutable. You can’t tell whether Tobias is manipulating the young radical or simply reacting to the situation at hand in order to stay alive and guide his passengers to safety. The only thing that matters is survival.
In this current moment of isolation, I wish the film 7500 was available to see in a movie theater; though Gordon-Levitt’s assertion that this is an art film would probably be rendered true as an art film that has no commercial prospects (much like Paul Greengrass’ earlier United 93, which has the added weight of 9/11 behind it). Yet it reminds us why Gordon-Levitt is a front-rank actor with an arsenal of varied performances behind him; and introduces us to a filmmaker worth keeping our eyes on.