by Hope Madden
7500, the emergency code for an airplane hijacking, is the title of the feature debut for writer/director Patrick Vollrath. An Oscar-nominated and much lauded filmmaker of shorts, Vollrath and his lead, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, prove fine instincts for building tension while maintaining understatement in a film that probably just shouldn’t have been made.
Gordon-Levitt plays Tobias Ellis, co-pilot of a German aircraft on its way to Paris. When Muslim terrorists attempt to overtake the plane, Tobias finds himself in the unenviable position of refusing their demands and witnessing the havoc they wreak.
We haven’t really seen JGL since Oliver Stone’s mediocre 2016 biopic Snowden. (He’s done a lot of voice work since, but we haven’t seen him.) But there was a time when the ageless actor (he’ll be 40 in February but he’s still playing baby faced 30-year-olds) appeared in almost every interesting film being released: Inception, The Dark Night Rises, Looper. And then came his own debut as writer/director: Don Jon—the best antidote for a romantic comedy perhaps ever.
Since then, even when his performance is solid (and it usually is), his film choice is not.
There are some exceptional reasons for the actor to show us his face again in 7500. The role offers clear, no doubt fascinating challenges. Much of the film is a one-man-show, and more intriguingly, the actor and filmmaker work together to ensure that this hero is as dialed-down and honest as he can be.
Vollrath’s film never revels in vengeance, never lusts after opportunities for comeuppance. And the downplayed emotion, the minutia of flying, the fear—all elements generally discarded in your Big Heroic Movie—give this film an unexpected air of humility.
Better still is the savvy use of limited vision, the claustrophobic nature of air travel, the confinement of the hero to ratchet up tensions.
For its subdued, humble approach, 7500 is a white savior film about an American man protecting those in his care from scary brown people. It picks a scab that’s been fingered to death, offers no real new take and absolutely no excuse for its choice of antagonist.
This isn’t a true story. Vollrath could have imagined absolutely anyone to be hijacking this plane, and the subtlety of the filmmaking feels even more insidious because of his choice. No swelling strings, glib one-liners, flying flags or bombast mark this as pandering white supremacy.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t.