It's a shame that all of 7500, the new thriller on Amazon Prime Video, couldn't be as clever as its premise. Unfolding essentially in real-time, director Patrick Vollrath's debut feature is a one-man show, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a pilot whose flight gets hijacked.
Vollrath's big creative gimmick in 7500 - the emergency transponder code for a hijacking, is to restrict the action to the cockpit. It's a truly ambitious move, because as any sane storyteller would tell you, the real drama lies among the passengers.
Watch the trailer of '7500' here
Vollrath cockiness in 7500 cost him a smooth landing. The film cruises along in its opening few minutes - JGL's first officer Tobias is introduced, his secret relationship with a stewardess is revealed, and everything is in order. The cockpit door is open, allowing us to just about register faces that'll return in some manner or the other later on; but we never leave Tobias' side.
There's a screen just behind him, which offers a static shot of the cabin - it is essentially going to be Tobias and our only window into the outside world after the door has been fastened.
Hitchcock attributed much of his films' success to what he described as the 'bomb theory' - it was the difference, he said, between surprise and suspense. Two people are sitting across a table, and a bomb goes off. The audience is surprised. But in the second scenario, the audience is shown the bomb first, and then made to endure the agony of waiting for it to explode.
"In the first case we have given the public 15 seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion," Hitchcock explained. "In the second we have provided them with 15 minutes of suspense."
There are terrorists aboard the flight, so for the first 30 minutes or so, we are in suspense, expecting them to attack at any moment. The flight from Berlin to Paris is going to be relatively short, so the terrorists must make their move fast. It's effective filmmaking.
But once the hijackers do attack, the film is robbed of all suspense, and therefore left to rely almost exclusively on moments of surprise. By definition, these moments are contrived.
They do not feel organic and exist only to propel the plot for another 15 minutes, until a new twist can be introduced.
Because Vollrath can't explore the full dramatic potential of the hijacking, having locked himself up in the cockpit, he employs other techniques to ratchet up the tension.
The camera is jittery, crouching on the floor, getting all up in JGL's face when the going gets really tough. But the sound design is what really sells it. And then there's the sustained knocking on the cockpit door.
But at the centre of it all is a tremendous performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Some might find it strange to see him in a micro-budget B-movie, what with his illustrious Christopher Nolan-infused filmography, but 7500 is a terrific sizzle reel for his range as a leading man. He threads that fine line between letting his emotions take control, and falling back on his training, with strength and vulnerability.
Films like 7500 rarely rely on the audience's emotional investment, but when the turbulence strikes the narrative around the mid-way point, JGL's performance is what brings the movie home.