7500 breaches the stationary, single-location movie with economy and class (without being economy class). German director Patrick Vollrath lends the picture a simplistic efficiency. The logline says as much: “A pilot’s aircraft is hijacked by terrorists.” No hidden agendas or high concept games are played. Even the space and textual meaning of the single location is not fully dealt with. It’s a by-the-books thriller, returning an engaged Joseph Gordon-Levitt to the pilot’s seat of a film, conspicuously absent from screens, perhaps taking method acting to its reclusive extreme after his last big role in Snowden (2016).
7500 feels best when it is most German. It naturally expresses the bilingual and multicultural realities of airline passage, fluctuating cleanly between languages and cultural artifacts. It never stalls or expresses uncertainty midflight. It is most interesting when it goes the way an American picture never would, uninterested in any kind of jingoistic valor, as a means to overcome the turbulent in-flight hijacking.
Levitt is calm and unemotive. He barely needs to act or to react at all. The status and situation of his character do not demand it. So, he presents a blank slate. While the performance is right for the picture, there is an impersonalness that seeps through, where a good part of the film, nothing really happens, while it also leads to the inevitable. None of it is needed, because we already know the only thing that will happen, just not how that will all go, after.
Vollrath plays inside the small box, often running the risk of feeling disconnected from the rest of the plane. We see everyone come on-board and greet his flight attendant girlfriend, but their end of the situation is really left up to the imagination. It does not ever feel that an entire passenger plane is really at risk. It largely boils down to risk imposed on Levitt’s character, his girlfriend, and where the plane might be crashed. It has only a little fun with a camera, where the hijackers constantly come and bang on the door, and try to get let in. That is one device it uses to build the tension but needs quite a few more layers, to really lay it on thick. Vollrath has a film that is all foundation — he has the bread, but not any peanut butter or jelly.
7500 is a slight little thriller that does not have a lot to say for itself. It’s rarely ever bad but cruises on autopilot, doing exactly what its logline says it will, and then only kicks into high gear for a third act. It’s a climax looking for its other parts. 7500 is at its best when it plays like a different kind of thriller, when its impulses are not American, flexing the rare ability to understand both its pilot and the hijackers. While it does not signal any notable return for Levitt — not for nothing — it’s pretty good to see him play a central role again.