“7500” – “How would an event like this go down in real life?” – director Patrick Vollrath, August 2019 at the Locarno Film Festival
“Nice airplane. Two wings and two engines.” – Capt. Michael Lutzmann (Carlo Kitzlinger)
It’s 5:23 pm at the Berlin Airport, but it is unclear which one (Schönefeld or Tegel), and security cameras offer several viewpoints throughout this sprawling locale: the check-in area, various hallways, gates, and even a bathroom entrance. During this montage, one clip focuses on five everyday men – in their 20s or 30s – marching on granite tile with blank stares on their faces, but is this quintet together?
They aren’t a basketball team or a group of buddies on their way to an out-of-town bachelor party, and the lens zooms in on just one individual.
For pilots Capt. Michael Lutzmann and 1st Ofc. Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), their flight – European 162 – appears routine and ordinary, until it isn’t.
In “7500”, director Patrick Vollrath dispenses an intense, raw 85-minute thriller that throws the audience into a cockpit (actually, an authentic one, according to an August 2019 Screendaily.com interview) with Lutzmann and Ellis, as a calamitous encounter unfolds. Hijackers – including the aforementioned man, Vedat (Omid Memar), earlier caught on camera – attempt to take over the plane with 85 passengers aboard.
With a bare-bones script, Kitzlinger and Gordon-Levitt frequently improvise their lines, as Vollrath very much succeeds in offering an authentic account of the perilous events. The director films nearly the entire movie within an enclosed space.
“7500” – which is an aviation transporter code for a hijacking – is a combination of “Buried” (2010), “Captain Phillips” (2013), and “United 93” (2006), and this public invasion in the sky also feels personal. Our pilots sit alone in a claustrophobic venue that might be larger than a coffin, but smaller than a simple sales office or a Guantanamo Bay cell. The seconds play out in the here and now, but we don’t hear the tick, tick, tick of an analog clock. Instead, the constant bang, bang, bang on the cockpit door assaults any small moments of peace.
Thankfully the locked, bullet-proof entryway seems pretty darn impossible to bust open. These baddies, however, appear bound and determined – like persistent, relentless car salesmen carrying sharp knives – so the danger is close, and the battering on steel rattles our heroes’ nerves.
The aviators see the aggressors’ actions through a small (maybe 12 inches by 12 inches) black and white monitor perched over the metal gate. Sometimes this visual tool acts as a godsend for Lutzmann and Ellis – and us – because the screen is the only insight outside their immediate environment. Still, it also frightens, because the travelers and flight attendants don’t have a barrier between themselves and the anonymous villains.
We get a clear view.
It seems like Vollrath and his crew filmed the whole picture for $50,000 during a long weekend, since the setting rests in just one place. That’s a compliment, because everything looks so realistic, as the camera sits within a couple of feet – and sometimes closer – from its players.
In fact, Vollrath’s first feature film feels like the actors are genuinely flying a plane, and note that Kitzlinger was a commercial pilot for years. How about that? Regardless, without tricks or gimmicks, the movie’s lifeline relies on convincing performances. Kitzlinger lends a big-time helping hand with his aircraft knowhow, and Gordon-Levitt unleashes his acting gifts to portray shock, angst, and fear convincingly.
No matter the extent of an actual pilot’s training, one’s reaction to an ugly street fight at 33,000 feet is a complete unknown, ‘til the moment arrives. So, imagine the impact on us.
(“7500” is available to stream on Amazon Prime, starting June 18, 2020)
⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Image credits: Amazon Studios; Trailer credits: Movieclips Trailers