- Patrick Vollrath
- Run Time
- 1 hour and 32 minutes
VP Content Ratings
- Sex & Nudity
- Star Rating
My heart is in anguish within me,
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”
When a thriller, and Patrick Vollrath’s film is certainly one, begins with a Gandhi quotation, you can be sure that I will be watching with an extra amount of attention! This story of the take-over of a German airliner by a small group of Islamic terrorists is as exciting and suspenseful as any I have seen—but unlike most such films in which we are led to loath and cheer the demise of the villains, this one is infused with a touch of Gandhi–and I am referring not just to the quotation, but also to the way one major character reacts to his enemy.
The film starts slowly with Captain Michael Lutzmann (Carlo Kitzlinger) and co-pilot Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) checking and preparing their instruments for a flight from Berlin to Paris. Tobias is an American working for the un-named airline company. He lives in Berlin with his German-Turkish lover Gökce ( Aylin Tezel), with whom he has sired a young son. She is a flight attendant, on duty this night, though they keep their relationship secret from the company,
The first minutes of their take-off pass smoothly, until two Muslims force their way into the cockpit. They were able to get by security because their knives are made from glass shards with tape wound around the handle end. The leader, Kinan (Murathan Muslu), manages to seriously wound Captain Michael, but Tobias is able to shove the second terrorist back through the door. Locking it, he subdues Kinan, trussing him up with bandages and tape and a seat-belt. He himself has been wounded in an arm, so he is mostly dependent upon just one hand as he communicates with the authorities over the radio. Later, the terrorist wakes up and tries to get free, so the co-pilot knocks him unconscious. (This is obviously not the Gandhian technique I mentioned earlier.)
There is constant pounding on the door and demands that he open it. At times we see the terrorists through the surveillance camera monitor, but we are never taken into the passenger section. Everything is shown from the cramped interior of the cockpit of the Airbus A319. Tobias passes through a series of agonizing decisions as the terrorists bring one, and then a second passenger, and threaten his and her life. At times the anguished co-pilot cannot bear to look, switching off the monitor. At another point Tobias addresses the passengers over the intercom, telling them their captors are armed only with knives, and so they could overpower them. We can hear muffled sounds over the intercom, but are not certain what is happening.
Still later, after further struggle with Kinan, a second terrorist, 18-year-old accomplice Vedat (Omid Memar) becomes the principal antagonist of Tobias. He has already been shown as distraught over the brutality of his comrades, and so Tobias uses Gandhi-like tactics, trying to appeal to his better nature. At this point in the story he is attempting to save the terrorist’s life as much as the hostage that the youth is holding at knife-point. The plane has landed at Hamburg, and Vedat has demanded that the plane be refueled. It is surrounded by police, a sharpshooter on stand-by.
Some critics have claimed that the film’s portrayal of the terrorists is too one-dimensional, but this is only partially true, with Kinan certainly acting and speaking out of vicious hatred, his stated purpose being to use the plane as a weapon against some unidentified target (presumably in Paris). In the case of Vedat, however, we are shown an impressionable young man who is questioning the horrible tactics of his friends. He calls and talks with his grandmother for what he regards as the last time. We can see in his eyes both the fear and the desire to give in to the fervent pleas of the American. However, he has been trained that Americans hate Muslims, and everything he has read or seen on TV seems to support the truth of this, so he does not lower his glass knife from his victim’s throat.
Working from a script he co-wrote with Bosnian Senad Halilbasic, first-time German director Patrick Vollrath has given us a nail-biter that unfolds in real time. The actors portraying Tobias and Vedat are completely convincing as a wide range of emotions are conveyed by their eyes and facial expressions. The title is not the plane’s flight number, but the emergency code that pilots can send out clandestinely to control towers when hijackers take over a plane. We feel a sense of claustrophobia by the filmmakers’ confining our point of view to the cockpit. The emphasis here, unlike United 93, is not the passengers, but on the pilots. We wonder during the stand-off, when the life of another human being depends upon our answer to the terrorists’ demands to open the door, what would we do? In the safety of home, it is easy to reason that the life of one person, weighed against the lives of all the others plus those on the ground where the plane would be crashed, is of less value. But, under the pressure of the moment, what might we decide?
During those times when the focus is upon young Vedat I was reminded of a powerful scene in Three Kings in which three American soldiers fighting against Saddam Hussein in the First Gulf War capture an Iraqi soldier filled with hatred against America because an American bomb killed his son and destroyed the legs of his wife. It might have helped round 7500 a little more if we had learned more of the details of the youth’s and Kinan’s backgrounds. Another factor I do not understand, though maybe it is explained in some of the exchange over the radio (which I could not understand), is why Tobias didn’t turn around and fly back for a landing in Berlin, rather than continue on. They could not have been very far away, the take-over beginning just a few minutes into the flight. But, of c toward Paris. (Of course, there would not have been nearly the story we have if this had happened.)
Despite some reservations, this is a realistic thriller for adults. No unrealistic superhero antics here. Tobias is an ordinary man who reacts as most of us probably would, facing a terribly difficult situation. The violence should cause any parent to be wary of letting their children watch—and if they do, to be ready to answer questions as to why this or that person acted as they did. One certain thing—while watching this (on Amazon Prime Video) you will forget all about the coronavirus!
This review will be in the June issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.