There’s no denying the timeliness of a thriller that traffics in the oppressive claustrophobia of being locked into a small location as you watch the horrors of the outside world unfold on a small screen. Despite that analogous nature though, 7500 has nothing to do with the global pandemic currently crowding headlines. Don’t be surprised if this fantastically-engineered potboiler, Amazon Prime Video’s latest original release in this timeline devoid of summer blockbusters, leaves you just as anxious though.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in this breakout debut feature film offering from German writer/director Patrick Vollrath. Those are really the only two names you need to remember here, as Gordon-Levitt and Vollrath totally own every frame of this thriller on their respective opposite sides of the camera. Gordon-Levitt plays Tobias Ellis, an American co-pilot on a commercial German airline flight leaving Berlin. In the Captain’s seat next to him is a local German skipper, while Ellis’ girlfriend serves as a flight attendant on the same trip.

The opening 15 minutes of 7500 are a study in technical minutiae that borders on documentary, as Ellis and the rest of the crew get passengers settled on board, run through pre-flight checks, and eventually take off. Gordon-Levitt and co sell the technical realism every bit as effectively as they do early character building as we learn tidbits about their lives. Early snippets of security cam footage tracking select passengers as they make their way onto the plan hint at something far more insidious lurking underneath the mundanity though.

That “something” bursts to the surface in a sudden explosion of screaming violence and confusion. Blood is spilled, demands are made, and Tobias is locked into the cockpit with men threatening the lives of the passengers just beyond. “7500” we learn, as the young co-pilot frantically radios for support, is the code for a hijacking in progress.

Vollrath stages nearly the entirety of the film, from the events leading up to and out of that cacophonous eruption, within the stifling confines of that cockpit. Using a series of masterfully executed long-takes that belie the restrictive geometry, Vollrath ramps up tension to spine-contorting levels as we experience all the direct confusion and emotion of Gordon-Levitt’s Tobias. A grainy black-and-white camera feed showing the immediate area in front of the cockpit is his (and our) entire view of what is transpiring on the rest of the plane. Fittingly, the thumping of fists on a locked door and screams of both angry hijackers and panic-stricken hostages behind it offer the only soundtrack to the horrific events on display. Employing a mix of highly meticulous staging and improvisation in some realistically messy scrambles, Vollrath throws us right into Tobias’ seat and it’s not a comfortable one at all.

Over the course of an excruciating hour of tense back-and-forth power shifts that will leave your stomach in pretzel-like knots, Gordon-Levitt delivers a career-best performance. It’s an everyman showing both massively effective in its understated believability but also punched up with ragged emotionality. Had “JGL” not already been one of Hollywood’s most versatile and dependable leading men for ages already, I would have pegged this as his great breakout star-making turn.

That honour now passes to Vollrath, who marks himself as one hell of a good torturer with masterful staging, editing, and minimalist scripting as his gothic blood-rusted devices of choice used to elicit our shrieks. If there was a dull instrument in the German filmmaker’s kit though, it’s that initially the hijackers are just played to Middle Eastern stereotypes, all extremist snarl. Ironically, it’s in the film’s later moments, when Vollrath actually tries to address this and 7500 turns from a one-man show to a two-hander as one hijacker begins to experience a crisis of conscience, that things nosedive a bit. Subsequent fleshed-out character sentimentality just doesn’t ring true. More annoyingly, the time spent on this shaky development also means that Vollrath hits some speed-sapping turbulence in the film’s otherwise meticulous pacing.

But besides that in-flight bumpiness, 7500 is still one hell of a debut feature that should catapult Vollrath into big-time Hollywood thriller contention soon while offering even further evidence that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the most underrated actors working today. And along with the equally brilliant recent release The Vast of Night, Amazon Prime Video is showing the rest of the 2020 streaming landscape just how to do small-scale productions stuffed with big-scale thrills properly.

Last Updated: June 24, 2020

7500
7500 is filled with a level of precise technical execution and big thriller chills that belie its status as a debut feature film. The ever-dependable Joseph Gordon-Levitt turns in a hell of a performance newcomer writer/director Patrick Vollrath makes his mark with this stomach-knotting study in suspense.
8.0
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