Written and Directed by Patrick Vollrath
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Omid Memar, Murathan Muslu, Aylin Tezel
When you think about flying, the first word that typically comes to mind is “routine”: we find the right seat on the aircraft map, we purchase our ticket, we pray that elbows and feet won’t intrude on our personal space and, when the time comes, we board our aircraft and go about our day.
Patrick Vollrath’s debut feature-length film, “7500,” starts as “routine,” in that the boarding of the flight from Berlin to Paris is unremarkable. Vollrath builds the tension in the story immediately with security footage of several persons. There is no sound, and there is no music either. We are left to watch the footage unfold with no cues.
Vollrath allows us to build up in our minds a tension using the visual medium to meld with our own experiences before the title card comes up.
By starting the film in this fashion, we get a chance to get to know co-pilot Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an American flying for a foreign air carrier. Tobias is reserved and discrete. He is also firm. Despite there being only two people in the cockpit, it is abuzz with activity as Tobias, and the captain, Michael Lutzman (Carlo Kitzlinger) ready the aircraft.
“7500” is smart filmmaking in a multitude of ways. First, the cockpit is the single set for the entire film.
By building a story around that one location, Vollrath allows us to focus on the characters and their situation. A lot of technical jargon is used by the crew toward the beginning of the film, giving it an authentic feel. The technical jargon is minimal as Vollrath balances their activities with life continuing, specifically a relationship between Tobias and flight attendant and girlfriend, Gökce (Aylin Tezel), regarding where they’re going to live with their son. Gordon-Levitt conveys emotion through his eyes, but he also wears his heart on his sleeve. Paul Dano was initially up for this role. However, Gordon-Levitt’s mannerisms and emotions strengthen Tobias’ character.
The claustrophobic nature of the single location also gives us a sense of maintaining the routine vagaries of air travel. Other than a ground crew member checking in on fuel and load balancing, the crew is as isolated in the cockpit once the hardened door is closed. Our only view of the world is the camera trained on the door into the back of the aircraft.
Remaining apt to the film’s title is its relation to aircraft operations. It would be easy to confuse the number 7500 as a flight number, given the short hop between Berlin and Paris. That hop is also a very routine flight, happening many times throughout a given day. The claustrophobic nature allows tension to be built into the hijacking of the plane, revealing the numerical meaning of the film’s title: 7500 is the global code for “hijack” used by radio gear on an aircraft to signal to the ground controllers.
Obscured by the raging storm outside the cockpit windows, Vollrath quickly turns routine into action and tension. The incursion into the cockpit by the hijackers leads to several dramatic moments in which characters are determined to see their respective duties through to the bitter end.
Within the claustrophobia, we get a tactile sense of the people who inhabit the story. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is exceptional as Tobias, and even though we’ve just met him, we know enough to care about him, to feel bad for him when necessary, and to empathize with him. We even feel empathy for the hijackers as the reality of their decisions set in. Vollrath effectively keeps our attention front and center for this 92-minute film.
The story is not the only element of “7500” that makes the film soar. Not only does the story focus on one single location, but Sebastian Thaler’s cinematography elevates the look and feel through muted colors. The use of the widescreen imagery gives an openness against the claustrophobic nature of the isolated cockpit. A lack of music in the film elevates the sensations of the film, harkening back to the tactile feeling of the character’s emotions; we have no frame of reference for how to feel other than watching the emotions of the characters in front of us. None of this is routine, and it makes for exciting, dramatic filmmaking.
“7500” is full of routines, in line with our human nature, and yet, there is nothing routine about Patrick Vollrath’s film.
2019, R, 92 minutes, Amazon Studios