AMMAN: After a string of huge movie roles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has taken a step back from Hollywood to focus on his family in recent years. Now, the 39-year-old is back on screen playing Tobias Ellis, the first officer on a commercial flight from Berlin to Paris. When hijackers attempt to take over the plane, Tobias winds up trapped in the cockpit while chaos unfolds just a few feet away. The film — named for the emergency code given to hijacked aircraft — is the feature debut of Patrick Vollrath, a German director with an Academy Award nomination (for the short “Everything Will Be Okay”) already to his name.
Vollrath limits the action to the cockpit of the plane, creating an almost unbearably claustrophobic atmosphere that’s only heightened by the contrasting mundanity of the opening scenes. As Tobias and his captain (played by German actor Carlo Kitzlinger) go through their checklists and procedures, the knowledge that something terrible is about to happen only ratchets up the tension, and when the situation does erupt, the brutality of the attack is shocking in the extreme.
Quite deliberately, “7500” lacks the spectacle of classic disaster movies, and though it’s fiction, the obvious similarities to events such as those aboard United Airlines Flight 93 lend the movie a sense of disconcerting resonance. Gordon-Levitt turns in a masterful performance, never once seeking to dominate the film, but capturing a sense of impotent fury and fear as his place of work — previously his comfort zone — is turned into a literal prison.
Vollrath never opts for histrionics, but lets the sparse script and his semi-improvisational style empower his lead actor to bring a raw and uncompromising edge to the performance. Vollrath sidesteps many of the usual clichés used in modern terrorist movies, making less of the reasons for the attack and instead exploring the toll exerted on both sides. There’s no music score, so the movie uses the noise of the aircraft, the attack, and the muffled sounds of the world beyond the cockpit to underline just how trapped Tobias becomes.
“7500” is not an easy film to watch, and it would be hard to describe it as ‘enjoyable,’ but it is an impressive demonstration of a director and an actor at the top of their respective games.