Jose Padilha’s hijacking thriller seldom makes major mistakes but it also does not take any risks in examining a historical event that has already been dissected on four separate cinematic occasions.
Highly emotive events are a natural draw for viewers. They’re high-octane, dangerous, affective, and wickedly modernist. These incidents hinge themselves on the compassion, empathy, and morbid curiosity of its victims. Whether it’s a shoot-out or a high speed car chase, society deems these melodramatic events to be of high importance. News organizations allocate manpower, time, and money to investigate it while governments do the same to undo it. It seems to be primarily due to the emotions that they stir in us as we look on at the plight of our fellow man. We can’t help but think, “that could (or even might as well) be me.”
So one could naturally come to the conclusion that such a tantalizing occurrence would spark the interest of cinematic examination, as the story, diegegis, and even characterization to a certain extent, practically write themselves. It’s a progression that seems naturally built for storytelling, one that would have all the necessary pieces to the puzzle of making for a good, entertaining film. And yet, Jose Padilha’s 7 Days in Entebbe somehow manages to miss the mark on what was one of the most daring and extraordinary hijacking events in modern history.
The skyjacking thriller differs than the other films and television shows that examined the hostage situation in that it is told from the perspective of the German revolutionaries Wilfried Böse (Daniel Brühl) and Brigitte Kuhlmann (Rosamund Pike) of Revolutionary Cells, an ultra left-wing group based out of West Germany as well as the Israeli government. Böse and Kuhlmann decide to take action and assist the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – External Operations (PFLP-EO) in hijacking the Air France flight in the hopes they will be able to negotiate the release of nearly fifty Palestinian militants in exchange for the nearly 250 civilians onboard the plane. As you can guess, things don’t exactly go according to plan.
And while can imagine that there be a whole slew of minutiae to examine in this tantalizing saga, Padilha seldom does. Perhaps the only real moments of elegant tension that arise are the behind-the-scenes actions of the Israeli government, as stubborn ideological stand-ins argue regarding the approach needed to resolve the issue. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi) wants to have lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians through negotiation and talks. Minister of Defence (and future President and Prime Minister) Shimon Peres (played with thespian-like grace by Eddie Marsan) wants a brute force response. Kuhlmann believes they have made a mistake, seldom seeing anything but the uncanny comparison between their actions and the Nazis. Böse believes they are in the right, proclaiming (maybe a bit too many times actually) that the Israelis are in the fact the real Nazis for their hypocritical treatment of native Palestinians.
It all sounds like the bickering inner-conflicts in each camp would make for absorbing cinema, and yet it seldom ever does. Instead, the constant reminders of the narrative’s thesis hits viewers over the head like a mallet, insisting that we not only realize that each camp has their own issues to resolve but that that is all that matters in the characterizations of each individual. It more often than not comes off as a facade that stands in for depth of character, registering as a veneer of doctrine that the director feels obligated to insert as a means of presenting all banal sides to the story.
It’s hard to believe that Padilha managed to miss the opportunity to expand on naturally arresting aspects of the hijacking. Whether it’s the involvement of Uganda’s megalomaniacal Idi Amin or the frightening palpable escalation of the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the hijacking of Air France Flight 139 was a beguiling situation that left most of the world stunned and yet utterly transfixed. And yet it became increasingly difficult to be as mesmerized under Padilha’s misguided and bland direction.
Verdict: 2 out of 5
José Padilha’s 7 Days in Entebbe is somewhat of an cinematic enigma. The director takes a wildly fascinating story and manages to keep it emotionless and stale throughout. Neither the presence of the exceptional Rosamund Pike nor the supremely talented Daniel Brühl help this mediocre film from firing off on all expectedly hair-raising cylinders, leaving viewers wondering just when the adrenaline is supposed to finally kick in. And