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Review: '7500' gives viewers an unrelenting view of terror in the air

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a pilot trying to bring a hijacked airplane to safety

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

An airplane is hijacked and the audience is in the pilot's seat in "7500," an often-breathless and deeply disciplined action thriller that uses a minimalist approach to heighten tension and escalate viewer anxiety. 

Director Patrick Vollrath makes the decision to confine the setting entirely to the cockpit of the plane and let the action unfold in real time, giving the film a sense of realism, claustrophobia and unease. Other movies have brought viewers on board a hijacked aircraft — "United 93" immediately comes to mind — but its singular technique and Vollrath's feat of restraint makes "7500" stand apart from its contemporaries. 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "7500."

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Tobias, a first officer flying alongside a more experienced pilot, Michael (Carlo Kitzlinger), on a flight from Berlin to Paris. Tobias is an American living in Germany with his half-German, half-Turkish girlfriend Gokce (Aylin Tezel), who is a flight attendant on the same flight. They share a few pleasantries relating to their upcoming wedding in semi-privacy before takeoff, though for the most part they're keeping their relationship a secret.

After a few routine checks and the late-boarding of two passengers we're off. Vollrath, who co-authored the screenplay with Senad Halilbasic, gives viewers a sense of routine calm until a group of passengers storm the cockpit and attempt to wrestle control of the jet. One gets in and wounds Michael with a shard of glass fashioned into a shiv, and Tobias manages to fight him off, restrain him and steady the plane while several others attempt to gain access to the cockpit. 

Again, since we never leave the front of the airplane, we never see what is happening in the passenger area. Our only glimpse outside the cabin is through a grainy television monitor which shows the area just outside the cockpit door, where Tobias — whose left arm was wounded in the tussle — can see the men banging and clanging on the door, trying to gain entry. It turns out they're Islamic terrorists with a bone to pick with the Western world, who've decided to make an example of the airplane and its passengers. It's up to Tobias to fend them off, communicate with the ground and land the plane safely. 

"7500" — the title is airline code for a hijacking — peaks at the midway point and dips slightly in its second half, but Vollrath's construct and his control is never not impressive. The first-time filmmaker pulls off a remarkable stunt here, and creates a lot of atmosphere on a small budget in a controlled environment. On his next feature he'll have more room to breathe. Gordon-Levitt, who's barely been on screen since he played the title character in 2016's "Snowden," is a calming, unassuming presence, and he plays his role with the right mixture of fear, strength, resilience and instinct. He helps "7500" take off, but Vollrath is the engine that keeps it airborne. 

'7500'

GRADE: B+

Rated R: for violence/terror and language

Running time: 92 minutes

On Amazon Prime Video

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama