It’s easy to understand why top actors jump at the chance to star in single-location thriller movies. There are few better showcases of a performer’s talent than sticking a camera right up in their face and focusing on little else for the entire length of a film. In the case of the new Amazon Prime thriller 7500, that single location is the cramped interior of a passenger plane’s cockpit, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt the actor at the centre of an intense drama.
The film is the feature directorial debut of German filmmaker Patrick Vollrath and casts Gordon-Levitt — nowhere near as ubiquitous on the big screen as he once was — as experienced pilot Tobias Ellis, at the helm of a routine passenger flight from Berlin to Paris. Almost as soon as the seatbelt lights are switched off, hijackers storm the cockpit. They are unable to gain access for more than a few seconds, but the plane’s captain (Carlo Kitzlinger) is mortally wounded and the terrorists begin threatening to murder hostages unless the cockpit door is opened.
Wisely, Vollrath’s tight 90-minute tale unfolds entirely within the confines of that cockpit, excluding some silent CCTV footage as the opening credits roll. The footage almost incites the audience to pick out who they believe the likely terrorists are, but there are red herrings aplenty. Evidently, the central conceit is that anybody on the aircraft could be harbouring a dark secret and improvising a weapon from broken glass.
Vollrath, wisely, keeps everything simple here, focusing on building the tension of the narrative rather than straying too far from the formula of movies of this ilk. There are turns, surprises and jolts throughout the story — including the presence on the plane of Tobias’s flight attendant girlfriend Gökce (Aylin Tezel) — but these all take place firmly within the constraints of where we know this movie is likely to go.
Despite its rather generic trappings, 7500 is an efficient exercise in building deeply uncomfortable tension. Vollrath’s tight close-ups make the most of Gordon-Levitt’s impressive facial work, managing the calm necessary to be an effective pilot with the panic of someone who is struggling against the protocol banning him from opening the door at every turn, as well as the constant, rhythmic hammering on the cockpit door that substitutes for a musical score. The geography of the cockpit is also constructed in such a way to allow items to be concealed in dark corners.
The movie becomes considerably less interesting when it morphs from one-hander to two-hander as terrorist Vedat (Omid Memar) enters the fray from the other end of the cockpit phone. Though the frantic tension is still at fever pitch, the tight focus is sacrificed for a more traditional dynamic between out-of-his-depth terrorist and hostage that only ever has one conclusion within its reach.
Despite its flaws, 7500 is undoubtedly an effective calling card both for Vollrath as a filmmaker and for Gordon-Levitt, who is not as in-demand as a leading man as he was a decade ago. It deals in generic thriller conventions aplenty — the Islamist terrorists are pure, ripped-from-the-headlines caricature — but the filmmaking is glossy and slick enough to ensure that the audience’s pulses keep racing, right up until the final moments.
Dir: Patrick Vollrath
Scr: Patrick Vollrath, Senad Halilbasic
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Omid Memar, Carlo Kitzlinger, Murathan Muslu, Aylin Tezel, Paul Wollin
Prd: Jonas Katzenstein, Maximilian Leo
DOP: Sebastian Thaler
Country: USA, Austria, Germany
Run time: 92 mins
7500 is available on Amazon Prime Video from 18th June.