Unlike the titular promise of Patrick Vollrath’s Academy Award-nominated live action short, everything will not be okay in “7500.” The German filmmaker’s feature film debut finds Joseph Gordon-Levitt returns to acting after a four-year hiatus, his tremendous talent unaffected by absence. As commercial airline copilot Tobias Ellis, Gordon-Levitt takes viewers on a seemingly uninterrupted, real-time hijacking crisis. Exuding professionalism while staving off panic, the young veteran actor challenges himself working in strict confinement. Vollrath’s contained thriller reverberates tension using one tiny compartment of space — the main cockpit — for its ensuing action. Reminiscent of Steven Knight’s “Locke” in sparing scale and performance-driven acceleration, “7500” manages to ground its own sky-high hostility with surprising compassion.
Vollrath’s screenplay does a nifty job at setup and misdirection, cementing a love connection early on between Tobias and one of his colleagues (Aylin Tezel) that foreshadows haphazard repercussions. After ten years flying, the 31-year-old Tobias has established a career and personal life in Germany. He now works for an airline headquartered in Berlin, with today’s flight traveling to Paris. His new captain (Carlo Kitzlinger) takes an instant liking to him, thanks in no small part to Gordon-Levitt’s natural, unassuming collaborative spirit. Other than an innocuous incision in one of the tires, the passenger jet is maintenance-approved for departure.
Naturally, turbulence is just the beginning of Tobias’ inevitable worst day on the job. Within a few seconds of hitting peak elevation, the aircraft is overtaken by three first-class passengers. Storming the cockpit as soon as it opens for customary refreshments, one of the hijackers makes it in before the pilot duo can re-lock the door. Armed with only a piece of glass, the attacker mortally wounds the captain and slashes Tobias’ arm before being knocked unconscious by both men. Each subsequent interaction only escalates the violence, though Tobias remains firm in his resolve to never open the door. This critical non-negotiable is the only thing separating manageable chaos from unpredictable doom.
Tobias’ grace under pressure never extinguishes, especially his sensitivity towards every passenger, teen hijacker Vedat (Omit Memar) included. The unexpected bond he forms with the visibly shaken religious extremist unearths a tragic realization that this all might have been avoidable. Vedat’s steep indoctrination combined with his forced participation under duress leads him to this irreversible moment. He knows he’s gone too far in the eyes of international law to ever lead a normal life. Because of this, Vedat feels his only choice is negotiating a way forward by threatening hostages. It’s a disturbing Catch-22 predicament that can only end in one of two destructive ways.
“7500” takes some questionable liberties by suggesting that three individuals post-United 93 could overtake an entire 85-passenger jet using broken glass. This flimsy premise fosters unnecessary dread and indirectly undercuts the overhauled progress made in airport/flight security. However, Gordon-Levitt’s performance pierces through some of these outlandish bits by honing in on the insidious nature of human fear. The script doesn’t condone Vedat’s heinous actions, but it does beg its audience to take a step back and reexamine all institutions — both religious and corporate — that callously corrupt innocence for selfish means.