Febiofest 2018 Review: ‘7 Days in Entebbe’ a Tense Procedural
In June 1976, an Air France flight bound for Tel Aviv was hijacked by members of pro-Palestinian liberation groups and flown to Uganda, where dictator Idi Amin promised sanctuary while a negotiation for the release of hostages would be worked out with Israel.
The terrorists separated the hostages into Israeli and non-Israeli groups, and released the non-Israelis. For the other, they demanded $5 million and the release of 53 Palestinian and pro-Palestinian prisoners, the majority of which were imprisoned in Israel.
But as the deadline neared - and the threat of hostage executions neared - Israel put into place Operation Entebbe, a mission that would covertly fly a small task force into Uganda, eliminate the terrorists, and slip out of the country with the hostages all but unnoticed.
The story of Operation Entebbe has been told numerous before: it was dramatized in two solid 1970s TV productions with excellent casts (Irvin Kerschner’s Raid on Entebbe is slightly superior to Marvin J. Chomsky’s Victory at Entebbe) and the Oscar-nominated Israeli production Operation Thunderbolt. It was even the basis for the Hollywood-ized The Delta Force.
Forty years later, 7 Days in Entebbe from Brazilian director José Padilha (Elite Squad, RoboCop) is another procedural-style account of the hijacking, hostage standoff, and rescue operation that won’t surprise anyone already familiar with the events, but serves as one of the best versions of the story to hit the screen.
It does one thing that almost all previous versions of the story haven’t attempted: humanizes the terrorists, and underscores the standpoint of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin (here played by Lior Ashkenazi), who argues for diplomacy over the military tactics of Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan), his defense minister.
The German terrorists, Wilfried Böse and Brigitte Kuhlmann, are played by Daniel Brühl and Rosamund Pike; Böse had previously been played by the likes of Klaus Kinski and Helmut Berger, if that’s any indication of how the earlier films viewed the character. And as they get further into the hostage crisis, separating the Israelis from the rest, they draw clear parallels to their Nazi antecedents.
The Germans aren’t the only terrorists humanized in 7 Days in Entebbe; the Palestinians, despite less screen time, are also depicted in a frank manner that includes an impassioned climactic dialogue with Brühl’s character (“you are fighting to atone for your ancestors; we are fighting for our lives.”)
Despite action movie director Padilha at the helm (whose two Elite Force movies were textbook examples of how to stage and shoot action), those expecting an exciting rescue operation climax here may leave disappointed; 7 Days in Entebbe aims to enlighten more than thrill, and abruptly cuts to the soldiers and hostages on a plane headed for Tel Aviv once the success of the operation becomes clear.
In a movie that otherwise strains for realism, English actors Pike and Marsan stand out as casting oddities. Both are fine here, but a climactic telephone sequence with Pike’s character could have been excised.
Solid in supporting roles are Denis Ménochet, as a flight technician who befriends his captor Böse, and Brontis Jodorowsky as the captain who convinces his crew to stay behind with the hostages. Nonso Anozie is amusing in a pair of scenes as Idi Amin.
Less effective is Ben Schnetzer as an Israeli commando whose training puts a strain on his relationship, but his scenes allow for some unusual (and appealing) performance art sequences with his dancer-girlfriend (Andrea Deck) that represent the film’s only reprieve from the hostage crisis.
7 Days in Entebbe may split viewers with its political leanings, a counterpoint to the daring military operation presented in the film itself. But the great Israeli actor Ashkenazi dominates as Rabin, and the film ruminates on the character’s viewpoint: “If we keep building walls around ourselves, we will become prisoners.”