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7500There is a sizeable cast in director/co-writer Patrick Vollrath’s breathtaking feature debut, set on a flight from Berlin to Paris in mostly real time, but only one actor who really counts: Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the flight’s co-pilot Tobias, an ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Hijacking dramas are nothing new but this is not the stuff of a Steven Seagal or Kurt Russell movie. 7500 is not an action picture, but rather a slow-burn psychological thriller in which the hero’s defining trait is an ability to hold fear at bay on the worst day of his life.

Vollrath sets the stage from the opening frames, introducing the flight’s passengers as they pass through security and lounge at the gate. The angle is overhead, the view that of surveillance cameras, establishing an uneasy tone from the start. Moving into the plane, Tobias and the pilot Michael (Carlo Kitzlinger) do their pre-flight checks while flight attendants Nathalie (Aurélie Thépaut) and Gökce (Aylin Tezel) get ready to greet passengers. It is all very routine, prosaic and a little dull, a far cry from the mood established in the terminal.

That banal calm shatters not long after takeoff as hijackers emerge among the passengers, determined to breach the locked cockpit door and commandeer the aircraft. Sporadic action gives way to a sharp focus on Tobias, struggling with limited options. A video feed allows him a tiny view of the area right outside the cockpit door. He has radio communication with air traffic control. But mostly what Tobias has are his wits. He thinks fast on feet, which when coupled with his Herculean effort to keep his rising panic down, gives him a fighting chance against an existential threat.

7500 is a modest endeavor that serves as a calling card for its director as Vollrath extracts maximum suspense out of a story that plays out within the confines of the claustrophobic cockpit. Masterfully edited by Hansjörg Weißbrich, the film’s pacing is superb, the flight’s horrors emerging bit by bit during its slim 92-minute running time.

Austrian actor Omid Memar lends strong support as the one hijacker with whom Tobias finds some rapport, but this is Gordon-Levitt’s movie. With the camera trained on him in nearly every scene, often in closeup and only rarely with another actor to play against, the one-time child star gives a master class in performance. Tobias’ fear, grief, and sense of helplessness are only too real, pulsing always just below the surface as he works to extricate himself and everyone else on the plane out of a dire situation.

7500 is no sweeping epic. It is a small story, but one that is masterfully told and magnificently acted. –Pam Grady

7500 is available on Amazon Prime.