Synopsis – Inspired by the true events of the 1976 hijacking of an Air France flight en route from Tel Aviv to Paris, and the most daring rescue mission ever attempted.
My Take – While International terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda or ISIS continue to spread their form of terror across the world, the period of the 1960s and 1970s saw various homegrown terrorists’ organizations mostly in West Europe, most of a politically left-leaning variety, rise to take action against the so called capitalist system. One such event which took prominence over others was an airline hijacking by Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in retaliation to the never-ending conflict between the state of Israel and the people of Palestine, which began following Israel’s creation in 1948.
While the daring and dangerous yet successful incursion by Israel’s military forces into Uganda’s Entebbe International Airport to rescue the hostages has been the base for the two made-for-TV films, Victory at Entebbe (1976) and Raid on Entebbe (1977) along with an 1977 Israeli-made feature film Operation Thunderbolt, here, director José Padilha recounts the events in the form of a political thriller with well-known faces like Daniel Brühl and Rosamund Pike leading the charge, all the while striving to balance its conflicting worldviews with modern-day cultural sensitivity, often through the use of interpretive dance.
Unfortunately while watching the film I couldn’t help but notice about how the film’s writer Gregory Burke and director Padilhato seem to have caught themselves in a case of identity crisis, as they are never able to clearly visualize what kind of the film they wanted to make, whether it is a gritty action thriller, an unhurried political drama, or an exercise in moral relativism. Sure, the proceedings are engaging, but the film fails to tell a rather interesting story with the spark it probably deserves, instead we are handed over a boilerplate tale of good vs. evil, which no one wants to see.
The story follows Brigitte Kuhlmann (Rosamunde Pike) and Wilfried Bose (Daniel Brühl), two German-born radicals who considered themselves revolutionaries. On June 27, 1976, the two along with a group of Palestinian terrorists, hijack the Air France Flight 139, flying from Tel Aviv to Paris with an unscheduled stopover in Athens, Greece, and use their weaponry to force the crew to fly south, first to Benghazi, Libya, then, after refueling, another five hours south to Kampala, Uganda and Entebbe International Airport, where they got the support of that nation’s infamous brutal dictator Idi Amin (Nonso Anozie), who is just looking for media exposure.
Their demands are simple – the Israel government must release 52 of its Palestinian prisoners in exchange of the flight’s 103 passengers. While Israel’s government does state that they are willing to forgo their strict policy of never caving into any form of terrorist threats, their top two leaders, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi) and Defense Minister Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan), secretly work out on rescue mission, as the rest of world watches them closely. The opening of the film lays out its historical context in title cards that appear to the rhythm of a dance troupe’s performance, but the rest of the film is much less effective at integrating those kinds of artistic touches into a straightforward true-life narrative.
Jose Padilha, Brazilian helmer of taut political-military thrillers like the Elite Squad series and the disappointing 2014 Robocop remake, is an appropriate choice to direct the refreshingly empathetic, even-keeled film, mainly because he can explore an especially incendiary moment in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without kowtowing to any specific ideology, plus he has plenty of experience combining tense action with political commentary, albeit not always with grace or subtlety, yet given the toxic atmosphere of world politics in our time, he doesn’t take any one side, manages to illustrate well how terrorism worked in the 1970s, the blinkered reasons why young radicals like Kuhlmann and Bose took to it, and the people and governments caught squarely in the middle of the struggle.
Moving between the hijackers and the Israeli cabinet as both groups argue over their respective principles and policies, the film suddenly throws a somewhat baffling additional subplot about an Israeli dance troupe into the mix, one of whom turns out to be the girlfriend (Zina Zinchenko) of a young Israeli soldier (Ben Schnetzer). The couple’s personal issues are completely irrelevant to the overall narrative, and the only purpose of their presence seems to be so that director Padilha can inter cut the climactic action sequence of the Israeli soldiers storming the airport and rescuing the hostages with a sort of avant-garde dance performance. It’s a jarringly esoteric moment in a film that is otherwise simple and linear, and it undermines the one thing that director Padilha is genuinely good at, staging exciting action sequences.
I get it he is trying something noble here: to give every side its due, unfortunately, he gives us a lesson in moral complexity instead of a film. In the sense, the soldier, the dancer, the hijacker and the politician are all functionaries; they don’t live, they represent. While director Padilha and screenwriter Gregory Burke attempt to give equal time to both the hijackers and those tasked with defeating them, the film relegates the Palestinian hijackers to the background while telling the white Europeans’ story, but that appears to be part of director Padilha’s point, and least as far as offering one sincere sequence after another in which Palestinian characters, whose families were decimated by Israeli forces, question the Germans’ resolve. What stakes do those who don’t have a personal connection to such pain face?
Even though they’re clearly the villains, we’re given a window into their underlying motivations. We see the struggle in their own souls as their leftist idealism runs smack into the reality of how they’re trying to achieve their ends and when they reach the end of those ends. The film goes out of its way to make Böse and Kuhlmann sympathetic, showing how conflicted they are about the possibility of harming any civilians, and how their interest in the Palestinian cause is rooted in serious philosophical ideas and the deep national guilt that Germans carry over the actions of the Nazis in World War II, and when they have a chance to carry out their threats or do something better with the moments that remain to them, they choose to protect innocent lives and not just end them.
The film’s biggest flaw however, is not capitalizing on Nonso Anozie’s Idi Amin Dada. Even more disappointing is the abbreviated scenes between Shimon Peres and Yizhak Rabin, even though the two actors excel in their head-to-head confrontations, we feel cheated every time it cuts away. It may be due to its run time of just 107 minutes, as the film tries to cram in too much, revealing and inherent desire for something more epic in its historical origins, something which would have worked better as a miniseries. You might not imagine that this true story would be used as a plea for diplomacy and peaceful negotiation, but by the end of the film, in case you miss that, a crawl at the end of the film will remind you that, as of March 2018, no negotiations are occurring.
Coming to the performances, Daniel Brühl, a superb actor, who for some reason seems destined to always play the ultra-serious character, holds his own despite his character being the most weakly crafted out of the bunch. However, Rosamund Pike, despite being a capable actress, seems totally miscast here. Although she seems to down her best Patty Hearst look, we never really understand why she is so committed to the cause. While Lior Ashkenazi is affective as the PM Yitzhak Rabin, its Eddie Marsan’s chilling performance as the dead-eyed realist which stays with you. Nonso Anozie is also good as the crazy Idi Amin, a role (in The Last King of Scotland) for which Forest Whitaker took home his Oscar for. Denis Ménochet was also a standout, while Zina Zinchenko and Ben Schnetzer are wasted. On the whole, ‘7 Days in Entebbe’ is a passable political thriller, which despite its entertaining story, offers a halfhearted presentation of a worthwhile moment in history.
Directed – José Padilha
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 107 minutes