I can’t open the door.
You can tell that Oscar nominee Patrick Vollrath wishes his feature directorial debut 7500 could be more than just another Islamophobic film wherein Middle Eastern terrorists try to kill a bunch of innocent westerners. Much of this stems from young Vedat (Omid Memar)—the nineteen-year old accomplice of three older zealots ready to do whatever is necessary for their point (ostensibly using the “eye for an eye” creed Gandhi critiqued in an early on-screen quote so Europeans will know the pain Muslims suffer) to be made clear. There’s an authenticity to his confusion (he doesn’t want hostages to die despite knowing they’ve hijacked this plane to crash it into a heavily populated area like Berlin) and a resonance to his fear (he doesn’t want to die).
But he isn’t the lead character. 7500 isn’t about a brainwashed kid who’s allowed his associates to warp Allah’s teachings to serve their rage. Nor is it about the redemptive quality of a villain stopping before it’s too late. Vollrath could have made it these things if he wanted, though. He wouldn’t even need to shift focus away from his American star (Joseph Gordon-Levitt as pilot Tobias Ellis). All he’d need is one line of dialogue that explains how Vedat’s fate isn’t set since he’s tried to be better and do what he can to help Tobias save the day. And while we can understand why the pilot would have conflicting feelings about helping him back, you can’t say the film is about an “unexpected bond” without it.
From the moment things begin to go awry, we can feel it wanting to break free—this sense of compassion and empathy for the “other” despite the motivations and actions that led Vedat here. Vollrath does a lot of heavy lifting to imbue the emotions behind what’s happening (these Muslim men are rightfully angry about how their people have been treated), but never goes far enough for it to mean anything (they ultimately become stereotypes and feed white Europeans’ already potent desire to equate them with terrorists because of the color of their skin and accent of their words). Making Tobias’ girlfriend half-Turkish (Aylin Tezel‘s Gökce) isn’t enough. Letting Vedat tearfully ask his mother for forgiveness over the phone isn’t enough. Not when the result remains the same.
At the end of the day this is still a brown man threatening the lives of white people. It doesn’t matter that their government threaten him. It doesn’t matter that they threaten him. The brown people are still positioned as being in the wrong and the white people are still positioned as being heroes. No amount of technical prowess (almost all of the film takes place in the cockpit with surveillance screens providing windows to other areas) negates that central conceit. No amount of mercy felt in Gordon-Levitt’s performance negates the fact that his character never does the one thing he must to even begin to calm his captor down: say the words, “I’ll speak on your behalf.” Never does he admit that Vedat has become a hero.
Why not? Because doing so would lessen the tension of the inevitable police standoff that ensues when Tobias keeps quiet. Those times when he goes through the motions of readying to use the shiv at his disposal only to stop short aren’t therefore a product of his feeling sorry for Vedat. They’re instead merely evidence that he doesn’t want to kill anybody. After everything he’s seen during these atrocities that have changed his life forever, he doesn’t want to add getting blood on his hands. So any attempt to save Vedat’s life later is nothing but a contrived play at once more positioning the white character as savior. Tobias can’t care about this boy if the script’s progressions perpetually reject the notion that he could or should.
At worst it shows ignorance towards the subject matter and how it will exacerbate animosity. At best it reveals the film to be utterly tone-deaf in its bid to humanize victims of a complex situation by placing them in the exact scenario westerners use to dehumanize them. It doesn’t matter how harrowing the suspense proves (the direction, cinematography, and acting is all very good) if what we’re seeing is indecipherable from fear-mongering propaganda. It doesn’t matter how different or fresh it is to have a “regular guy” like Gordon-Levitt (instead of an action star like Dwayne Johnson) in the unthinkable position of having to fight for his survival and make unimaginably utilitarian decisions if the script is still built upon a generically and reductively xenophobic premise.
courtesy of Amazon Studios