The Stakes Are High in Amazon’s Action-Fueled Hijacking Thriller ‘7500’

Joseph Gordon-Levitt takes his career to new heights in the intense action-thriller “7500.” Told in real time, the film follows Tobias Ellis (Gordon-Levitt), an American living in Germany, as he co-pilots a flight from Berlin to Paris. Right away, Tobias is a likable character. We first meet him as he goes about his pre-take off routine with the captain, Michael Lutzmann (Carlo Kitzlinger). He also shares a sweet moment with his girlfriend, flight attendant Gokce (Aylin Tezel), with whom he shares a two-year-old son.

The plot quickly takes a turn after take off when a group of terrorists try to enter the cockpit. One gets through and not only stabs Tobias with a makeshift glass knife, rendering one of his arms useless for the remainder of the ordeal, he also mortally wounds the captain. Although Tobias is able to subdue the man and lock the door, he still has to safely pilot the plane and land in Hanover.

While Tobias is in the cockpit, the situation escalates in the cabin, and he is forced to watch through a monitor as the terrorists take a passenger hostage, threatening to kill him if Tobias doesn’t open the door to the cockpit. Of course, he knows if he does this, everyone dies, and he’s under strict orders from ground control not to. But nothing prepares him for when they take Gokce, and Gordon-Levitt has his Oscar-worthy moment as his emotions battle with his reason.

“7500” is the feature debut of German filmmaker Patrick Vollrath, who was previously nominated for an Academy Award for his live-action short “Everything Will Be Okay.” According to Vollrath, who recently spoke with Entertainment Voice over the phone, one of the things that inspired him to make “7500” was the challenge of shooting in such a confined space, as the majority of the action takes place in the cockpit, making for a claustrophobic feel. As it turned out, there were few difficulties during shoot itself, as the crew prepared well during pre-production and the different departments alternated being on set. “The main challenge was the writing. To imagine what could happen, what is believable. When we don’t leave the cockpit, when the door is closed, what could the story be? How can we still get close to the characters?”

Eventually, Tobias is forced to work with one of the terrorists, 18-year-old Vedat (Omid Memar), to try to safely land the plane. During the course of the flight, we see cracks in Vedat that we don’t see in the other men, such as the fanatical leader, Kenen (Muruthan Muslu), and by the third act, everyone’s life, including his own, comes to hinge the actions of this conflicted young man.

The final scenes are intense and compelling as Tobias is able to connect with Vedat on a human level, putting aside their “differences.” According to Vollrath, he was interested in exploring the story of a young man who has become radicalized and comes to regret his involvement in a terrorist plot. But the most important thing for him was to have the pilot and terrorist work together. “I wanted to tell a story about not taking revenge. That is the only answer to how we can break this circle of violence… This is the biggest thing that’s at the core of the film.”

Because many films utilize Islamic terrorists as villains without fleshing them out, it’s refreshing to see the humanity Vedat, although we never feel that we know him as well as we know Tobias. As for the others, they never rise above being one-note bad guys. However, Vollrath worked out their backstories on his own, even if we only see hints of them in the film. “During an act like this, nobody would offer their backstory to everybody, because we see this through Tobias’ eyes… I didn’t want to give an easy answer, you know? I think we’re always searching for easy answers.”

As for Gordon-Levitt, he gives a career-high performance. As Vollrath first started writing the screenplay while he was still in film school, he never envisioned having a known American actor as the lead. However, after his Oscar nomination, there was interest in his making an English-language film.

“I would have thought it would have been harder, as a first-time filmmaker, to work with such a big Hollywood star,” said the director. However, Gordon-Levitt proved to be a gift. “He’s very open. He’s willing to go deep and use all of his experience to try and help you do a good job. He’s very willing to listen to you and your vision and try and bring it to the screen. He has a wide range of emotions and he’s so likable from the beginning, and I think it’s very important for this character that we like him and identify with him, because he’s us in this situation.”

Although “7500” is technically an English-language film, German and Arabic are also spoken, which adds authenticity. “It added a very interesting layer to the whole film,” said Vollrath when asked about having an American play Tobias. “First, the language, everybody is speaking different languages. We can tell a lot about their backgrounds, like If someone speaks English very well, like Vedat. The other guy [Kenen], he doesn’t understand as much English. It tells us a lot about their [educational backgrounds].” He continued, “When you talk about terrorism, America plays a big role, so that was interesting to bring that layer in.”

7500” begins streaming June 18 on Amazon Prime Video.