An opening slate informs us that the globetrotting thriller “7 Days in Entebbe” takes some creative license with the real-life event it portrays. Every time the location shifts — Athens, Tel Aviv, Entebbe — we’re notified by massive on-screen text that would fit comfortably in a James Bond film. Despite these promising overtures and the pedigree of director José Padilha — best known for the “Elite Squad” films and his contributions to Netflix series “Narcos” — “7 Days in Entebbe” never quite finds its rock ’n’ roll swagger. Receiving its world premiere in an out of competition berth at the Berlin International Film Festival, Padilha’s latest displays all the visual polish one expects from an international co-production on this scale. However, in its insistence on capturing every side, “7 Days in Entebbe” falters in serving any single perspective justice.
José Padilha previously covered political corruption in his native Brazil with the highly-successful “Elite Squad” series, before turning to Hollywood for the dubious “RoboCop” remake. Not so far removed from the scenarios of his earlier efforts, “7 Days in Entebbe” explores the true story of the July 1976 kidnapping of an Air France flight destined for Tel Aviv. The hijackers, composed of members of left-wing German extremists (Daniel Brühl and Rosamund Pike) and Palestinian freedom fighters, redirect the plan to Entebbe and quickly find themselves at odds over their political beliefs. As a result, the Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi) has to measure the political cost of a plan to rescue the hostages from the Ugandan capital.
For films of this ilk, Olivier Assayas’ sprawling, sexy miniseries “Carlos” remains the contemporary standard for its rendition of both the celebrity appeal of ‘70s terrorism and the flinty substance of the movements’ values. At 107 minutes, Padilha is afforded a much smaller canvas to tell a parallel story. Despite this restriction, “7 Days in Entebbe” still operates as if it has the time to encompass every dimension that the hijacking encompasses: the goals of the hijackers, the experiences of the hostages and the political maneuvering of the Israeli government. Of course, the national background of each player introduces further complications — particularly the recent history between German nationals, the displaced Palestinian people and those of Jewish faith.
In the roles of German terrorists Böse and Brigitte, Brühl and Pike get the job done, even if neither performer scales the heights of their best work. Of the two, Pike gets a meatier part including a dramatic showcase and the opportunity to show off a German accent. “7 Days in Entebbe” briefly questions the role of women in these kinds of radical groups, but doesn’t follow that thread to any meaningful end. Eddie Marsan (to the surprise of no one) has the most fun with the role of Israeli politician Shimon Peres. He seems to be the only character in the ensemble that isn’t seized by performance anxiety, advocating for a swift resolution to the crisis. The biggest miss here is Nonso Anozie as General Idi Amin Dada. An unnerving, bigger-than-life personality, the actor’s rendition is simultaneously too small and too big to capture.
In the waning years of the ‘70s, German radicals are confronted an increasing lack of purpose, motivating them to take up the Palestinian cause. This leads to the film’s moral crux: is the Palestinians’ struggle against the Israeli Jews (and the often violent action that it demands) at odds with the anti-fascist ideals that the Germans stand for? We are reminded constantly, both by Böse and Brigitte as well as the hostages, of how this radical action will be perceived by the rest of the world. In a speech to the passengers upon their arrival to Entebbe, Böse declares the Israelis to be the new Nazis for their annexation of Palestine and treatment of its people, itself an oxymoron. Padilha and screenwriter Gregory Burke (more successful working in the same wheelhouse with “’71”) leave no space for nuance, making sure the contradiction is restated every thirty minutes or so.
“7 Days in Entebbe” wisely brings on technical collaborators that have served its director well in the past, including cinematographer Lula Carvalho, editor Daniel Rezende and composer Rodrigo Amarante. A great deal of dramatic responsibility falls to Rezende and his arrangement of the film’s climax, which crosscuts between rescue operation Thunderbolt and a dance performance introduced at the film’s outset. The piece, which involves the performers removing their Orthodox wardrobe to the tune of “Echad Mi Yodea,“ is meant to symbolize the challenge of escaping one’s ideological trappings. The device — an addition acknowledged to be fabricated by the director in his press appearances — is transparent but effective.
“7 Days in Entebbe” closes on a final heavy-handed note, advocating for a more peaceful resolution to the conflict in the Middle East. And while it’s a perfectly valid message for this solid feature, it’s disappointing outro for a filmmaker who has shown the will and craft to make cinematic powder kegs with of his Brazilian features. There is a more polemic, thought-provoking work somewhere in “7 Days in Entebbe,” held hostage by its commercial appeal. [C+]