Airplane hijacking, hostages, armed terrorists, political intrigue are the perfect ingredients for a taught thriller - especially if it's based on historical events. José Padilha had all of these elements working for 7 Days In Entebbe, a thriller about the 1976 siege at Entebbe airport in Uganda where 248 passengers aboard an Air France were held as hostages. Unfortunately, the film doesn't quite find itself as it aims to tell all sides of deeply divisive politics losing a lot of tension and suspense becoming a routine outline procedural of events. Universal delivers a disc sporting a terrific video transfer and a solid audio mix to match. Worth A Look.
I love a good political thriller. Especially if it's 70s related. When I hit my teens I discovered movies like Dog Day Afternoon and All The President's Men. Movies that were retellings of recent newsworthy events that captured the public interest and dug deep into what made the major players tick. How did the events unfold? Who made the plan to solve the problem? What were the things that could have gone wrong? What did go wrong? What was the fallout of the success or failure? I love this sort of stuff. So when 7 Days In Entebbe about the Israeli commando raid that freed over 100 passengers of an Air France flight that were taken hostage by German revolutionaries and Palestinian freedom fighters, I naturally got very excited.
While an interesting look at what happened, director José Padilha working from a screenplay by Gregory Burke doesn't quite hold enough focus to make the film truly suspenseful. By trying to get into the heads of each of the major players, by trying to understand the motivations of not only the terrorists but Israeli officials, the film lacks an anchor and when the odds-defying raid finally does occur, it plays out more or less as simple procedure rather than a high-risk event.
It was supposed to be a simple routine flight from Tel-Aviv to Paris via Athens. Everything went out the window at 10,000 feet when two German revolutionaries Wilfried Böse (Daniel Brühl) and Brigitte Kuhlmann (Rosamund Pike) aided by Palestinian freedom fighters took control of the airplane armed with guns and hand grenades. Under the protection of Idi Amin (Nonso Anozie), the flight eventually lands in Uganda. There the hijackers offload the passengers into the old airport terminal at Entebbe. Their demands are simple: $5 million and release of 50 political prisoners held by Israel, Germany, and other countries - or the passengers will be executed. As France and Germany decline to intervene, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi) and his defense minister Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan) grapple with the options placed before them. Do they show their strength and resolve by risking the lives of the hostages and invade? Or do they appear weak and capitulate in order to secure the safe return of the passengers?
The July 4th, 1976 raid on Entebbe was an event I was only briefly aware of prior to this film. I knew it happened. I knew it was a big event that has had a generational impact on Israeli politics. It was alluded to in The Last King of Scotland. It's also the very rough inspiration for Menahem Golan and Yoram Golan's 1986 Cannon classic The Delta Force. But outside of a hijacking and a commando raid, I never knew what happened, so on that end, I was really excited to see 7 Days In Entebbe.
While the film does an amiable job of retelling events it ultimately feels unfocused. Part of the problem is that it wants to be all things for everyone at all times. Great pains are taken to get to know Böse and Kuhlmann and why they turned to join forces with the Palestinians to achieve their political goals. In grand having its cake and eating it too fashion, the film also focuses on the internal politicking between Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and how to respond to the situation. Truth is in the eye of the beholder and 7 Days In Entebbe has a lot of different truths and by trying to give each side a voice, a film that could have been thrilling and suspenseful dissolves into routine as the raid is almost an afterthought when it's ultimately played out juxtaposed against a stylized dance performance that virtually kills any remaining tension.
Like the event itself, the politics of the film are particularly messy. I don't have any problem being asked to understand the motivation of someone willing to take an airplane full of innocent passengers hostage. I feel understanding motive increases the threat risk and in a thriller, it adds suspense when executed properly. However, I do have a problem when a movie asks me to be sympathetic with characters openly stating their readiness and willingness to murder innocent men, women, and children. That's a bit of a tough line to cross. You can make any statement you want about the potential excess or overkill of Israel's decision to invade rather than negotiate; there's a lot of room to explore there - especially in light of events that followed the raid. But asking me to side with the guy holding a machine gun threatening a family, that's a big nope. Even as the film attempts to portray Böse and Kuhlmann not as committed as their Palestinian counterparts to kill hostages, it's still a stretch to ask for sympathy for these two when they were very willing participants in putting innocent people in the line of fire.
Taken as a whole, 7 Days In Entebbe is at the very least interesting and does a good job of recapturing the look and feel of the era. Performances are universally excellent as Brühl, Pike, Marsan, and Ashkenazi all turn in terrific performances in their respective roles. The opening forty minutes detailing the hijacking of the plane and Israel's initial scramble to understand what was happening is exhilarating, tense stuff. I just wish the film could have maintained that pace for the long stretch. When it decides it's time to get to know everyone intimately rather than just sticking to brass tacks the film starts to come unglued. Not by any means unwatchable, but it's not as satisfying as it could have been.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
7 Days In Entebbe arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Universal Studios in a single disc Blu-ray + Digital set. Pressed onto a BD-50 disc, the dis is housed in a standard sturdy Blu-ray case with identical slipcover artwork. The disc loads to previews for other Universal releases before arriving at a static image main menu with Universal's traditional navigation mapping. The included digital copy is Movies Anywhere compatible.
7 Days In Entebbe arrives with a technically proficient 2.40:1 1080p transfer. The filmmakers clearly when to great lengths to recreate the middle 1970s and also give the film the look and feel of a feature shot during that era. Clarity and detail are striking. The film features many close-ups and tight-framed shots allowing you to examine various aspects of the production design and the costuming. Colors skew more golden earth tones with pronounced yellows, oranges, and browns, but primaries are given plenty of flash. Blues in particular offer a nice vivid presence. Flesh tones appear in keeping with the visual style on the tanner side of things without appearing jaundiced or sickly. Black levels are inky and give the image a notable sense of depth.
7 Days In Entebbe lands with a rock solid English DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix. The dialogue is clean and clear. Sound effects are well balanced and lively keeping surrounds active and engaged even during quiet conversational moments. The airplane hijacking sequences is a strong highlight of the mix with shouting voices, muffled footfalls, and the claustrophobic thumps of a tight and confined passenger plane. Scoring by Rodrigo Amarante is uniformly excellent as it works to help maintain tension and anxiety while also keeping the mix active. When the big raid hits, gun shots offer up a great thunderous quality and played against the dance performance, the stomping feet pumps some great LFE tones. Levels are spot on without the need to make any adjustments. All around, this is a strong audio mix that fits nicely with the film. It's loud and active when required, but quiet and focused when necessary.
Considering the subject matter and the historical implications of what happened after the raid, I was hopeful that the bonus features package for 7 Days In Entebbe would shed a little light on the show. Unfortunately, aside from some pretty typical stuff, there isn't a whole lot here.
The Entebbe Team (HD 7:24) This is a pretty standard tried and true cast and crew EPK feature as they quickly run through the making of the film.
Inside The Raid (HD 7:45) This is a solid and informative but sadly very brief feature where various people who were there at Entebbe during the raid. The later half dissolves into the standard EPK stuff, but the first half is pretty great.
Additional Dance Sequences (HD 5:26) This is additional dance sequence material that was trimmed from the film.
7 Days In Entebbe details a series of complicated events from multiple sides. In an attempt to get to know everyone, a tight and tense thriller is lost. The film does offer a fascinating retelling of events, so at the very least it is an educational experience, but with a more focused approach without some convoluted politicking it could have been a much better movie. Universal Studios has done a terrific job bringing the film to Blu-ray with a solid A/V presentation. Bonus features are very slim, but there is some interesting material in there that's worth looking at. 7 Days In Entebbe isn't a terrible film, but it doesn't fully succeed in telling the sort of story it set out to. At the very least, it's Worth A Look.