Berlinale Bloggers 2018 Extraordinary true tale, ordinary on screen
In much of ‘7 Days in Entebbe’, the requisite parts are there, but they don’t work as they should.
By Sarah Ward
Ten years after winning Berlinale's Golden Bear with Elite Squad, Brazilian director José Padilha returns to the festival with another explosive story steeped in reality — or so the situation seems on paper, at least. Exploring the 1976 Air France Flight 139 hijacking and the Israeli Defence Force's rescue mission in response, codenamed Operation Entebbe, the details seem a perfect fit for the filmmaker's usually energetic style and keen eye for gritty reality. Like the passengers held hostage in Uganda in the feature's true tale, however, 7 Days in Entebbe is stuck in limbo.
THE WEEK WATCHED AROUND THE WORLDStructured in daily chapters spanning the titular week, the film steps through the incident from three perspectives. In the thick of the drama, the radicals responsible try to keep the situation under control, with Germans Wilfried Böse (Daniel Brühl) and Brigitte Kuhlmann (Rosamund Pike) increasingly concerned about the approach taken by their Palestinian colleagues. Back in Israel, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi) and Defense Minister Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan) attempt to formulate a solution that will not only free the captured but crucially place the country in the best political position, while a soldier (Ben Schnetzer) and his fellow military operatives prepare to put that plan into action.
GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONSThough the scene is set for terse thrills from the outset, Padilha can’t translate the extraordinary real-life circumstances into anything more than a perfunctory recreation. Indeed, the feature’s ‘70s-era staging quickly emerges as its most convincing element. Everything else is either too by-the-numbers (the crisis of motivation experienced by the Germans, including the fascist accusations that come with singling out Jewish passengers), or lacking visceral impact (action scenes that fail to evoke an emotional reaction). Or, they’re ambitious in idea but misguided in execution, such as the intertwining the movie’s climactic moments with the Batsheva Dance Company’s rehearsal and performance of one particular piece, in an effort to ramp up the tension.
That leaves stars Brühl, Pike, Ashkenazi and Marsan with a difficult task: enlivening a surprisingly inert screenplay by '71's Gregory Burke, and navigating the corresponding absence of suspense on Padilha’s part. Neither the script nor the film’s direction is grounded in enough minutiae to resonate as a procedural look at the hijacking and response, placing a heavy emphasis on the cast to sell the stakes — and proving as standard as they are. One late scene, featuring Pike’s exhausted lone female perpetrator pouring out her regrets to a disconnected phone, perfectly though unintentionally encapsulates their struggle. In much of 7 Days in Entebbe, the requisite parts are there, but they don’t work as they should.