Saturday 1 August 2020

On demand: "7500"

Just shy of fifteen years on, they've remade United 93 without the sociopolitical context. Amazon's big summer streaming premiere 7500 starts with that old Gandhi quote about an eye for an eye leaving everyone blind, then unspools several minutes of grainy CCTV footage that captures a group of ethnically indeterminate men gathering at Berlin Airport. (One is seen picking up alcohol at duty free, so - whoa! - hold those prejudiced horses.) These will be your hijackers for the evening. Your hero - pointedly different from the doomed passenger collective of the Greengrass film - is a nice American pilot, Tobias, played by that nice Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and he's involved in a nice-sounding relationship with one of the stewardesses on his upcoming night flight to Paris. That flight is meant to be routine, a brisk hop; it becomes far less so after those hijackers attempt to storm the cockpit, forcing Tobias to seal himself in and engage in that most 21st century of themes: crisis management. A crucial moment, when that cockpit door is secured: it immediately shuts out any of that wider context - the whos and whys of this particular attack - and limits 7500 to a study of a small, square space. All that matters from this point on is what's left to be done from the cockpit, and where this plane is headed in the darkness of the night.

Does it still work? Absolutely. Though one of its subjects is uncertainty - the turbulence that follows any breach of the usual protocols - the film itself proves to be supremely well managed. Our flight director Patrick Vollrath spends his modest budget well: he's landed access to an actual flight deck in an actual aeroplane passing through an actual airport, which - combined with the early procedural (flightdeck checks, news of late-running passengers) - lends verisimilitude to the one set we spend the rest of the movie haring round. He marshals his soundtrack (the already eerie hum of a regulation flight, the screams behind the locked door) as effectively as he does the cranking-up of tension. Of course Tobias can turn something of a blind eye to the taking of a random hostage we haven't been introduced to, and of course it gets personal after the hijackers go after his gal, leading our boy to take his eye off a mooted emergency landing in Hanover. It's as though Vollrath himself is sitting at the pilot's side (which was likely the case, given the limited space of this shoot), consulting and tapping the dials, maintaining the desired levels of pressurisation, ensuring the plane hits a rainstorm at the optimal moment to heighten the inflight drama.

That tight control extends to the characterisation, Gordon-Levitt playing a smaller, quieter variation on that pent-up stoicism Greengrass coached into Tom Hanks to the benefit of 2013's Captain Phillips, while his director is operating with extreme caution around the hijackers. These are eventually revealed, with a shrug, as Islamic fundamentalists - well, who else has skin in the hijacking game these days? - though even here, 7500 strives to find a neat representational balance, to level its wings. The leader of the group, Kenan (Murathan Muslu), enters the cockpit hell-for-leather, while another, junior party, Vedat (Omid Memar), is revealed as having doubts. (The grain of that CCTV footage obscures him, but I think it may have been him who turned to alcohol to quell his nervousness.) Still, there are elements on the other side of that cockpit door that Vollrath can't get to, or doesn't want to look at, or much discuss otherwise. The sheer containment precludes the expansiveness and wildness of an airborne thriller in the mould of Executive Decision, Con Air or Turbulence (which, lest anyone forget, had Ray Liotta as a leering serial killer at 35,000ft). Just as we can no longer take fluids onto a flight post-9/11, so we can no longer have that kind of unbridled fun at the movies; our hijack dramas now have to be roughly as terse and humourless as commercial flying itself. Vollrath lands this one safely, having done much in the preceding 90 minutes to position himself on the Hollywood radar, yet with bigger budgets come bigger canvasses. It'll be intriguing to see how he fills them.

7500 is available to stream via Amazon Prime.

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