Creating a film in a single location comes with its own set of problems, which are different to those on a conventional film set. You must contend with blocking, camera positioning and how to progress the story without too much external influence. Historically in film, they’re a source of heightened tension. The master, Alfred Hitchcock, had some of his best features take place entirely within one apartment. Buried, a severely underrated Ryan Reynolds vehicle from 2010, stretched the possibilities of a single location to its absolute limits by setting the entire film inside a coffin. 7500, a brand new single location adventure, takes place within a plane cockpit; that tension I mentioned earlier reaches new heights.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in his first on-screen role since Snowden in 2017, plays Tobias, a young pilot with only a handful of flights under his belt making the short trip from Berlin to Paris. All is going according to plan before a group of terrorists wielding makeshift glass knives take control of the cabin, demanding entry into the cockpit.
Given the confines of the location, there’s a startling amount of pressure on Gordon-Levitt’s shoulders. He is on screen for practically every minute of the film, so it’s no wonder debut director, Patrick Vollrath, wanted someone with some A-List calibre to take the lead. Vollrath made a point during the casting process that he didn’t want his lead to be a John McClane type, he wanted an everyman. As the relatively inexperienced, everyman co-pilot, Gordon-Levitt is quite brilliant. He has the naivete of someone thrust into an extreme situation, while showcasing the calmness under pressure and intelligence to resolve it as best as he can. With the knowledge that Tobias’ girlfriend is one of the cabin crew, it pushes the tension to near breaking point, and Gordon-Levitt brings all the emotion he can to the fore. Surrounded by far lesser known actors, Gordon-Levitt shines.
Having terrorists of Middle-Eastern origin hijacking a plane in a 2020 film (almost 20 years after 9/11) seems….unnecessary? I’m not sure why we are getting this story now and Middle Eastern actors and audiences are surely tired of seeing this representation onscreen after all these years. The script does attempt to make the on-board terrorists more than an unknown, silent force to be reckoned with. Two of the party, the naive Vedat (Omid Memar) and group leader Kalkan (Passar Hariky), force their way into the story and confront Tobias upfront. Vedat is given the most to do in this regard as he’s written in an attempt to humanise his role in proceedings. While most of his moral dilemmas are a surface-level exploration of his character, Memar delivers a convincing performance, particularly in the second half as he takes centre stage in the inevitable negotiation phase. What could very easily have descended into a loud shouting match between Tobias and Vedat, becomes a genuinely thoughtful discussion, as Vedat attempts to explain his actions. Memar humanises his character well, convincing us that maybe Vedat regrets participating in the act while including more than enough reasonable doubt that, in fact, he regrets nothing at all.
It doesn’t take long for the titular event – 7500 is aircraft transponder code for a hijacking – to take place, but one aspect about Vollrath’s storytelling in this regard really stuck with me in its opening scenes. Bending the rules of its single location setting, 7500 opens with CCTV footage from within Berlin airport. Our eyes are drawn to a group of people wandering through the airport separately, making their way through security, one of whom sporting a conspicuous rucksack. Later, during boarding, without a musical cue or an obvious framing decision, a man boards the plane wearing the same rucksack, and the stage is set. This brand of silent, audience engagement storytelling seems so simple but when done well it’s enormously effective. This short prologue is all we needed to draw us into the story. Chekov’s Gun had been planted, all you can do is wait for it to be shot.
I was impressed with the creative cinematography on show throughout. A cockpit is barely big enough to fit two people within it, and while I’ve no doubt the cockpit in 7500 is bigger than the average cockpit for filmmaking purposes, the sheer number of shot types used is staggering. It feels as if every single nook and cranny of the cockpit is explored in detail as the camera circles the confined space. The camera is creative with its use of space in such a small area, but it does an impressive job of reminding you of certain key artefacts that are strewn around the floor naturally as the story is unfolding.
Pacing would have had to be the focus of proceedings during the editing process and given how electric the opening half of the film is, it was bound to have to slow down at some point, in order for us to catch our breath. This is where the film gets its most human elements, which I liked, but it does lack a lot of the impetus of the first half. What really impressed me in the first half is how 7500 wasn’t afraid to pull its punches (there’s one moment that’s a particularly strong emotional punch to the face), but in the second half the film becomes more reserved and struggles to insert the same level of tension. It’s a high possibility that the tension that has a better impact on me personally is one involving more action than conversation. The dialogue here is fast-paced between the police officer on the runway and the highly-strung Vedat, which in isolation is well done, but relative to how strong the initial hijacking is, it takes something of a step back.
7500 works very well given its simple premise, and I can assure you there are far worse places to spend 90 minutes on Amazon Prime. I thought the story was well told, I really enjoyed the creativity of the camerawork, and while I did have some pacing issues with the final act, I thought it was really well done, and it’s great to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt back in the saddle delivering a reliably great performance. Prepare to never want to see the inside of a cockpit ever again.
Directed by: Patrick Vollrath
Written by: Patrick Vollrath, Senad Halilbasic
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Passar Hariky, Omid Memar, Hicham Sebiai |