7500 is thrilling in its simplicity. American pilot Tobias (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is co-piloting a routine night flight from Berlin to Paris with 85 passengers on board, his co-pilot, Michael, and his girlfriend, Gökce, who is a a stewardess for the same airline. A trio of Islamic terrorists attempts to enter the cockpit, injuring Tobias and Michael in the process. From there, it’s up to Tobias to land the plane while negotiating with his aggressors for the lives of everybody onboard.
Writer-director Patrick Vollrath makes his feature-length debut here after a number of successful short films, including the Academy Award-nominated short Everything Will Be Okay. Once Tobias enters the cockpit of his plane, 7500 never leaves it, creating a claustrophobic tension that serves the story and character well. The success of Vollrath’s screenplay rests solely on Gordon-Levitt’s shoulders and he rises to the task completely. It brings to mind Buried, Moon or Locke, each similarly focused one-man shows about men in peril.
Vollrath does an excellent job surrounding Tobias’s’ experience prior to the hijacking with the mundanity of his circumstances. There is no melodramatic external drama or great mystery to be solved. The most pleasant section of the film is a detailed, thoughtful depiction of Tobias and Michael starting their pre-takeoff procedures. Characters are introduced efficiently. Maybe the twists and turns are predictable given the “small world” approach to Gökce being the stewardess inevitably trapped on the other side of the cockpit door, but efficiency has its own pleasures.
7500 is more or less told in real time from start to finish, but the last 30 or so minutes feel laden with empty emotional space. This is a stellar short thriller stretched to unnecessary length for no real thematic reason. A good example of the tension dissipating: Once Tobias foils the initial hijacking attempt, the three terrorists know that the longer the more time they spend trying to get in, the less likely it will be that their plan succeeds.
Still: the first two-thirds exhibit strong, thoughtful thriller theatrics that show a technical mastery of the limited space a cockpit allows and a great performance by an actor who has become too scarce in recent years. This is the type of movie that would disappear in a traditional summer season but might get more eyes in the absence of blockbusters. Weak final act aside, it deserves them.