The key to almost every movie is tension. Without it, there is no conflict, no desire, no grief, no heartache, not even joy. A far more malleable and effective tool than suspense, tension can grab you in the gut and not let go for the entire length of a movie. The skill of the film lies in the tightening and lessening of that tension throughout the movie. In the Amazon original film, 7500, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and directed by Patrick Vollrath, the tension is palpable from the first minute and the entire effectiveness of the film lies in the audience’s willingness to endure it.
In 7500, Gordon-Levitt plays a commercial airline pilot whose plane gets hijacked while traveling from Berlin to Paris. You would, at first glance, imagine this to be an action movie, sort of a cross between Die Hard and Panic Room, and you would be right, to a certain degree. However, in truth, the action is kept to a surprising minimum and the major thrust of the film’s emotional impact is translated through anticipation of violence instead of violence itself. Director and co-writer Vollrath, who makes his feature film debut with this film, does manage to use tension as the main player in a film that has to keep the audience engaged through ninety minutes where nothing much happens once the initial act has occurred. The bulk of the movie revolves around how the characters react to that one moment, and the ramifications, both physical and emotional, to that action.
There is significant buildup to the hijacking itself, and the first quarter of the film is extremely effective in establishing the place, time and characters. Vollrath is all about the tension in these opening minutes, as he cross-cuts our introduction to the pilots and flight attendants as they settle into their pre-flight activities, prepping for just another flight, with security camera footage of men going through security checks and walking through the airport to their gate. The ominous silence while the security cam footage shows these men and their semi-suspicious activities is incredibly effective in ratcheting up our sense of dread. Once the flight is up in the air, the tension of watching the normal in-flight activities makes our stomachs churn even harder, as we are just waiting for the hijacking to happen.
Once it happens though, we begin an entirely new level of tension, as the rest of the film deals with not necessarily our tension and dread, but that of Gordon-Levitt’s, as the pilot who has to keep his calm and figure out how to keep himself and a plane full of passengers (and possibly even hundreds on the ground) from dying.
Unfortunately, the film not only plays into our basic human attraction to tension, but it also draws a little too heavily on Western Islamophobia. It almost feels retro to have the hijackers be Middle Eastern, I had to check that this movie was really made in 2019. It was disappointing to see the filmmakers take such a lazy route. Seeing the American white man as the hero who has to save the day versus the extremist, Islamic terrorists set to use violence to spread their message, it just felt done and this movie deserved to have more imagination.
As the hero, Gordon-Levitt’s performance is purposely subdued, which, strangely, didn’t work for me. Even though it’s clear what he and Vollrath are going for here, wanting to portray a solid, professional, Sully-like champion who we all want to believe is in our cockpits, Gordon-Levitt’s lack of any emotion went a bit too far, especially when you’re stuck with him for one and a half hours.
Still, the overall effectiveness of Vollrath’s direction is exceedingly impressive, as you truly feel you are as trapped in that plane as our characters are. Even the violence is mostly done in a Hitchcockian way, most of it left to the imagination, which is always more disturbing. Despite some disappointing choices, 7500 works because the tension is key, and they play it perfectly.