Since playing Edward Snowden in Oliver Stone’s 2016 biopic, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been off our screens for four years. Well, at least in physical form – he contributed vocal cameos to both The Last Jedi and Knives Out. Gordon-Levitt is neither a traditional Hollywood star with a marketable persona to preserve, nor a character actor. Since his time as a child actor in the TV sit-com, Third Rock from the Sun, he is associated with science fiction; his biggest above-the-title hit is Looper ($176m worldwide gross), in which his character, Joe meets his older self (Bruce Willis).
Gordon-Levitt is a symbol of Generation Meta. He will break the fourth wall as soon as look at another actor and knows all the movies references, as his performance in 500 Days of Summer attests. He is not necessarily the funniest guy in the room though, nor the smartest. But he will take on subjects that Hollywood would prefer to avoid, like pornography addiction, in his (to date) only film as director, Don Jon. In so doing, he takes the danger out of those subjects, as if to say, ‘that’s not so bad’. He removed the danger so much that no one wanted to see him negotiate a tightrope suspended between the Twin Towers in the 2015 film, The Walk. Well, it was all CGI.
The thriller, 7500, is a risk of a different sort. The drama action takes place entirely in the cockpit of a commercial aircraft flying between Berlin and Paris. Gordon-Levitt plays First Officer Tobias Ellis, who finds himself as last man standing against a group of Islamist terrorists armed with weapons fashioned from glass bottles purchased from duty free who are determined to take control of the plane and crash it, killing thousands of people.
The German co-writer-director, Patrick Vollrath (making his feature debut) expertly cranks up the tension as early scenes give us a CCTV view of preparations for the attack – shopping and disappearing into the bathroom. For Tobias, this is a routine trip. His partner, Gökce (Aylin Tezel) is an attendant on the same flight. They discuss kindergarten for their two-year-old. The school they wanted is not available, but there is another. The passengers file on. There is nothing suspicious. But then the plane takes off and the terrorists go to work.
Vollrath does not attempt to offer a sympathetic view of Islamist terrorism. Their grievances are clichés. Rather he focuses on their ruthless determination as one of them forces his way in the cockpit, killing the pilot. Tobias knocks him out and secures him in a seat using some duct tape and a strap but has lost the use of his left arm in the process. For much of the time, Tobias winces in pain and looks on appalled as the other terrorists threaten to kill the passengers unless they are given access. Gordon-Levitt gives good anguish.
This is emphatically not a Hollywood thriller. Tobias does not shrug of his injuries, make a few quips and prove capable of outsmarting the terrorists. Rather, Vollrath and his co-writer Senad Halilbasic emphasise his vulnerability and limited resources. The film was shot inside an airplane cockpit and you feel the difficulty in negotiating spaces, moving bodies, hiding weapons and so on.
7500 is a thriller that justifies ‘edge of your seat’ status, with its realist aesthetic and high-stakes set-up. It offers no comfort to frequent flyers. Nothing about the film feels particularly ingenious, which makes it more frightening. The climax descends into contrivance, but by the end, we feel the real-world impact of what has happened as well as the ease at which life changes in a short space of time. It isan impressive debut and a thrilling ride.
7500 is available to stream exclusively on Amazon Prime