Movie Review: Tepid “7 Days in Entebbe” has Israeli Commandos saving the day…again

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Some movies make you question their very existence. The quality starts the questioning. then you think about how over-familiar the subject matter is. Maybe you scratch your head over the timing.

Why are we seeing yet another movie about the daring Israeli commando raid in Entebbe, Uganda, now? The latest, “7 Days in Entebbe” is a blase stroll through a desperate and harrowing affair, inspiring more boredom than fear and utterly lacking in suspense.

The 1976 terrorist takeover of an Air France jet, collusion with an outlaw state led by a vain, delusional and murderous lunatic, Jews singled out among the passengers for mass murder by German and Arab hijackers inspired fierce debate, within and without the Israeli government, little of which is shown here.

The operation planned, re-planned, rehearsed and rehearsed, with every passing hour raising the stakes and the tension. Not that you’d know that here.

And of course, having inspired three movies shortly after the hijacking and raid to free the hostages, including a classic of the oft-maligned TV movie genre (“Raid on Entebbe”), you have to be very young or very forgetful to not know how all this turns out.

The new “7 Days,” by Jose Padilha, a director who forgot what he knew about creating suspense when he made the taut, politically charged hostage docudrama “Bus 174” by the time he remade “Robocop,” is just one long anti-climax.

  Daniel Brühl and Rosamund Pike play the idealistic/fanatical German remnants of the Baader-Meinhoff Gang, leftist terrorists in disarray, desperate for a face-saving/status reviving action that would put them back on the map.

Under the overall command of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and with two Arab accomplices, they brazenly brought machine guns and grenades on board a Tel Aviv to Air France flight with 248 people on board and took control.

The script hints at the naive radical book publisher “Boni” Böse (Brühl) as being a “useful idiot” (Lenin’s term), idealistic but not the hardened, committed soldier for the cause that those who were fighting to take their homeland back from Israeli domination. The script has Brühl’s character overly-concerned about how “Germans killing Jews” might look in the headlines. Because he’s no Nazi. No sir. Not him.

Pike brings her “Gone Girl” crazy-eyes to Brigitte Kuhlman, his co-leader, even though the actual hijacking is shot and edited in a most perfunctory, unexciting fashion.

Back in Israel, the government of Yitzhak Rabin (a low-energy performance by the great Israeli actor Lior Ashkenazi) treats this as not just a military threat, but a political one. Will Defense Minister Shimon Peres (brilliant character actor Eddie Marsan), militating for a military response straight away, use this to bring down Rabin’s government?’

Whatever little suspense there is on board the jet, which traveled to Khadafi’s Libya (Benghazi!) to refuel and the on to Idi Amin’s Uganda, is frittered away in the quietest Israeli Cabinet meetings in recorded history. There’s no fractious debate, no voices-raised considering of the stakes of negotiating with terrorists, no bickering over how the world will see their action or inaction, only silence from virtually every actor on set save for Marsan and Ashkenazi.

 

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“You want to invade their country, Shimon?”

“We’ll give it back to them when we’re done.”

Then there’s what might have been the most interesting parallel in the story, the Israeli modern dance company putting on an arresting, symbolic “Shed your Orthodox Fanatic Garb” piece (choreographed by Ohad Naharin), led by lead dancer Sarah (Zina Zinchenko), their rehearsals and performances framing the action as Sarah’s commando/lover (Ben Schnetzer) prepares for war.

The commando training, a staple of such movies, is given short shrift. Not the dancing. And the hostages barely make an impression, as a group or as individuals, save for the ruff French aircrew engineer (Denis Ménochet).

    Nonso Anozie has the look, the braying self-promotion and the chuckle of Idi Amin, but little of the murderous menace.

Too much time is wasted on the moral debates of the two German hijackers (The English Pike does most of the heavy-lifting in German), halfhearted attempts to fill in their back story.

That contributes to the sense of a film that tries to have it both ways — jingoistic Israeli decisiveness and righteousness (the Holocaust is invoked), vs. Europe’s youth, consumed with passionate support for legitimate Palestinian grievances and the world’s inattention to them.

All of which points to how inferior “Entebbe” is to “The Baader-Meinhoff Complex,” “Munich” or that long-ago, ham-loaded TV movie I mentioned above.

And all of which brings us back to why this picture was even made in the first place.

Then you remember the heroes of what the Israeli Defense Forces called “Operation Thunderbolt.”  There was a Netanyahu involved — a heroic Netanyahu, not a corrupt, bellicose wag-the-dog politician, but a soldier.

Maybe that’s it.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, some thematic material, drug use, smoking and brief strong language

Cast: Daniel Brühl, Rosamund Pike, Nonso Anozie, Eddie Marsan, Lior Ashkenazi

Credits:Directed by José Padilha, script by Gregory Burke. A Focus Features release.

Running time: 1:46

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