`7500’ fails to take flight

Douglas Laman
Special to Texoma Marketing and Media Group
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as the co-pilot of a plane hijacked by terrorists in "7500."

It was supposed to be an ordinary flight for pilot and “7500” protagonist Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Just steer the aircraft from Berlin to Paris. Just another day for a guy whose life takes place in the sky. Unfortunately, shortly into the fight, something goes horribly wrong. A group of terrorists take the cabin of the plane and begin to bang on the cockpit door. They want in, but Ellis, obeying protocol, refuses to let them in. The terrorists insist they'll start killing hostages if their demands aren't met. Screenwriter Patrick Vollrath attempts to enhance the intensity of this scenario by filming almost the entirety of “7500” from the cockpit of the plane.

The movie has the singular location aesthetic of “Locke.” It has the airplane backdrop of “Non-Stop.” And it has all the tedium of waiting for your delayed flight to board. Oscar-nominated filmmaker Vollrath's first foray into the world of feature-length movies leaves quite a bit to be desired, particularly in generating actually suspenseful sequences. Too much of “7500” is derivative rather than unpredictable. These uninspired tendencies are seen from the start with our villains - a group of generic Middle-Eastern terrorists seemingly cribbed from any random episode of “24.” Their behavior and personalities are incredibly familiar, the kiss of death for any movie like “7500” jonesing to get audiences to the edge of their seat.

The lethargic writing extends to protagonist Tobias Ellis as well. Simply put, the character just isn't an interesting enough to spend 85 minutes with in one location. Before the hijackers make their presence known, we don't get to know much about Ellis. He's American, one of the flight attendants is his girlfriend and he's got a son - that's about it. Not the most compelling set-up for a character that “7500” plans to exclusively focus on. Meanwhile, the character feels so detached from every part of the actual hijacking. There's nothing in his personality that gets tested or reinforced by the ensuing in-flight mayhem. He's just a vaguely-defined figure who alternates between evoking Captain Phillips and evoking John McClane.

It's utterly baffling why this particular role is the one that lured Gordon-Levitt into his first feature film appearance in four years. Nevertheless, here he is delivering one of his weaker performances. A restrained role offering few props or other characters to bounce off of doesn't bring out much in the way of creative acting. Partially, this can be attributed to Vollrath's directing. Yet, that doesn't entirely explain Gordon-Levitt's disappointing lack of engaging intensity in this performance. His attempts to appear terrified or intense just aren't all that authentic and it further undercuts the already hindered intensity of “7500.”

Like Gordon-Levitt's performance, Vollrath's direction doesn't end up flourishing under the stripped-down nature of “7500.” Instead, he primarily leans on forgettable camerawork, particularly when it comes to the rote execution of a handful of hand-to-hand scuffles. Credit where credit is due, though, Vollrath's screenwriting at least commits fully to its central conceit of taking place entirely in the cockpit of a kidnapped airplane. No dumb shortcuts are implemented here to justify cutting to a new location. Vollrath has set forth on this path and he walks down it. The execution of that concept leaves something to be desired, but points for trying something unique and following through on it.

Meanwhile, in terms of other positive elements, Omid Memar does deliver the best acting in the film in his role as terrorist Vedat. There's a welcome level of realism in Memar's depiction of Vedat going through so many different emotions and headspaces during the course of this story The Vedat character, as written, ends up going into familiar territory, but at least Memar elevates the part somewhat. Unfortunately, there's little else in “7500” to help get this thriller off the ground. The innovation on this one began and ended with the decision to place the entire story in the cockpit of an airplane. Otherwise, “7500” commits fully to being a totally forgettable thriller.

Douglas Laman is a lifelong movie fan and writer. A graduate of UT Dallas, he is preparing to become a graduate student at the University of North Texas. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.