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'7500' review: Joseph Gordon-Levitt shines in technically proficient, but poorly plotted thriller

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in Amazon Prime's "7500."

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in Amazon Prime's "7500." Credit: Amazon Prime Studios

MOVIE: "7500"

WHEN|WHERE Streaming on Amazon Prime

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Tobias Elliot, the American co-pilot on a flight from Berlin to Paris that is hijacked by Islamist terrorists in "7500," an action-thriller from writer-director Patrick Vollrath that is set almost exclusively in the cockpit of the plane.

The movie, now streaming on Amazon Prime, depicts Tobias' efforts to land the plane and fend off the attackers, while trying to build a bond with Vedat (Omid Memar), a hijacker with a conscience.

MY SAY Alfred Hitchcock famously enjoyed making movies set in a single location, such as a lifeboat, with the idea that imposing such a limitation allowed for sharper focus on the psychology behind the action.

Vollrath operates under the same theory here in a movie that upholds the legacy of predecessors such as Hitchcock's "Lifeboat" and "Rope." With the exception of the prelude, which consists of a series of security camera shots of the hijackers in the Berlin airport, and a sequence showing the crew members boarding the plane, the camera never leaves the cockpit.

The closed-circuit TV showing the scene unfolding just beyond the cockpit door stands alongside the radio to air traffic control as the only connections to the outside world for Tobias, who must single-handedly contend with this threat after the captain is killed.

"7500" stands as a taut and efficient exercise in generating suspense in a confined space, made all the more affecting thanks to Gordon-Levitt's major performance. But it plays like a filmmaking experiment more than a rich and well-rounded drama.

You're never less than fully aware of what the gambit is, and while it's possible to marvel at the achievement on some level, there's never really a moment where the story takes precedence over the technical accomplishments.

That's in large part because the narrative is preciously thin and familiar — over the decades, we've seen countless movies about this very subject, with villains exactly like these, and one would have thought that the post-9/11 era meant they might be generally retired, or at least reconceived for good.

We get no insight into the terrorists' motivation, the specifics of their plot or how they manage to pull it off in the modern-day security environment. The attempts to humanize and complicate the picture in the depiction of Vedat play like they have been forced by a general acknowledgment that you shouldn't make a movie with one-dimensional terrorist bad guys anymore.

At the same time, the plot is enormously predictable, and Vollrath never manages to generate a really surprising moment.

The hostage negotiations over the closed-circuit camera, the physical struggles in the cockpit, the psychological warfare as Tobias tries to seize on Vedat's hesitation to steer him to a better place: we've seen it all before.

So there's one real reason to bother with "7500," and that's Gordon-Levitt. He hasn't been challenged by a part in a while, but here he affects a palpable mixture of panic and resolve that makes us believe Tobias is the man for this crisis while also showing just the right amount of intense, sublimated emotions.

It's an accomplished portrait in close-up of a terrified professional, doing his job as well as can be in unimaginably wrenching circumstances.

BOTTOM LINE Joseph Gordon-Levitt is excellent in "7500," an accomplished single-location thriller from the standpoint of its technical achievements that suffers from a mediocre story and plot.

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