The air traffic control code for a hijacking in progress is “7500,” “seven five zero zero,” a fact that comes out in a white-knuckle-tense thriller that marks a return to the screen for Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
He plays the bloodied, wounded and generally by-the-book co-pilot of a Berlin to Paris flight seized by Muslim terrorists just after take-off.
The twist in first-time feature director Patrick Vollrath’s script is that everything is “seized” save for the cockpit. The bolted-doors every jetliner had installed after 9/11 pays off in the bloody opening act of what becomes an intimate, real-time and brutally gripping tale headed by an actor who generates instant empathy.
Injured inside the confines of the dimly-lit cockpit, with his captain out of commission, co-pilot Tobias drags us into his dilemma. The script expertly gets across his few options. The cabin has been seized. The worldwide directive, that the door “under no circumstances” should be opened, tie his hands, no matter what he sees on the CCTV monitor on the other side of that door.
And as we’ve seen in the 20 minute prologue to the attack, his partner (Aylin Tezel) and the mother of his son is in uniform, a flight attendant, trapped in the horrors just a couple of feet away.
Vollrath uses the tight space he had to film in to great, suspenseful advantage. It’s a film of extreme close-ups, low instrument-panel lighting, of checklists, procedures, first aid and in-your-face violence.
There are no glib taunts, threats or macho one-liners. Gordon-Levitt makes Tobias believably human. He’s in shock, in pain, terrified for his partner and mortified at what he sees on the black and white monitor that shows the frantic fanatics pounding at the door, pleading and screaming as they drag hostages before the camera they know he’s watching.
The turns the story takes are quite predictable — melodramatic even. We’ve seen hijacking tales before, and yes, Muslim terrorists are a trope the movies have pummeled into submission.
And as we yell at the screen ideas for Tobias to consider, anything to give the passengers a chance or disorient, rattle or merely toss the hijackers about and slow them up, the only annoying note is Tobias’s weepy fury, punching the seats in helplessness as he tries to lie, trick or use “the system” his way out of this.
But Gordon-Levitt still gives us a master class in screen acting in close-ups, and does that in a thriller good enough to give us more pause before booking that next trip, after the pandemic.
MPAA Rating: R (for violence/terror and language)
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Omar Memar, Aylin Tezel and Carlo Kitzlinger
Credits: Written and directed by Patrick Vollrath. An Amazon release.
Running time: 1:32