7500 (2020)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a scene from “7500.” It will premier on Amazon Prime on Thursday.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Captain has turned on the Fasten Seat Belt sign in preparation of 92 minutes of nerve-racking tension. Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers an intense performance as an American co-pilot on the red-eye from Berlin to Paris when terrorists attempt to hijack the plane. The suspense builds and the tension mounts as he must choose between giving them control of the aircraft or letting passengers die. German filmmaker Patrick Vollrath’s realistic debut feature “7500” will keep you on the edge of your seat.

The film gets its name from the transponder code used to alert authorities that the plane has been hijacked. For the first 15 minutes, we watch as veteran pilot Michael Lutzmann (Carlo Kitzlinger) and junior co-pilot Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) perform the preflight checklist giving the audience a behind-the-scenes look at the procedure that passengers never see. Kitzlinger, a former Lufthansa pilot, brings authenticity to Vollrath’s scripted thriller, which overflows with realism.

We learn that flight attendant Gökce (Aylin Tezel) is also Tobias’ girlfriend and mother of their 2-year-old son as they discuss complications over a preschool situation. As passengers begin to board and take their seats, the news of two late arrivals delays the departure, an ominous sign that this is going to be anything but a smooth flight.

After 9/11, cockpit doors became reinforced and bulletproof as a deterrent to prevent hijackers from taking control of planes while CCTV cameras were installed so the pilots could monitor activity outside the door.

Soon after takeoff, a flight attendant knocks on the cockpit door, her presence confirmed by the video monitor. Just as the captain unlocks the door, three Muslim terrorists armed with makeshift weapons (knives made out of cut glass) bum rush the cockpit. A fight ensues between the captain and terrorist leader Kenan (Muruthan Muslu) who manages to enter the cabin while Tobias securely shuts the door before the other two attackers can get inside.

The entire film takes place inside the small and cramped cockpit causing a claustrophobic effect that heightens the tension. Sebastian Thaler’s camerawork successfully traps the audience in the confined space, which finds both Tobias and the captain wounded, and Kenan knocked unconscious while the airliner flies on autopilot.

“7500” becomes a nail-biting thriller as the plane is diverted to Hanover for an emergency landing while the two terrorists outside the cabin continuously bang on the cockpit door demanding to be let inside or they will begin murdering passengers one by one. The youngest highjacker, 18-year-old Vedat (Omid Memar), speaks English, so he pleads with Tobias to let them in while his accomplice holds a glass knife up to a passenger’s throat. The nightmare scenario plays out on the CCTV monitor while Tobias implores Vedat to stop the assault before the situation escalates.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers a powerhouse performance. He’s never been better. The actor’s roots can be traced back to his TV gig on “3rd Rock from the Sun” in the ’90s and memorable film roles in “Brick,” “500 Days of Summer,”” Inception” and “Snowden” to name a few.

Levitt is an everyman actor who easily blends into each role convincingly. He’s not Bruce Willis from “Die Hard” dealing with terrorists like a superhero, he’s frightened, stressed, and unsure of his actions. This film thrives in authenticity which adds to the already elevated tension. As you watch Tobias deal with the situation you can’t help but wonder how you would react under the circumstances.

Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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