Tuesday, March 20, 2018

In Theaters: 7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE (2018)

(US/UK - 2018)

Directed by Jose Padilha. Written by Gregory Burke. Cast: Daniel Bruhl, Rosamund Pike, Eddie Marsan, Denis Menochet, Lior Ashkenazi, Ben Schnetzer, Brontis Jodorowsky, Nonso Anozie, Mark Ivanir, Angel Bonnani, Peter Sullivan, Andrea Deck, Natalie Stone, Vincent Riotta, Trudy Weiss. (PG-13, 107 mins)

Operation Thunderbolt, the Israel Defense Forces' successful July 4, 1976 raid of Entebbe Airport in Uganda to rescue hostages being held by the far left German Revolutionary Cells and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine stands as one of the most daring military missions in history. It immediately spawned two competing, hastily-shot, all-star TV-movie "events" with ABC's VICTORY AT ENTEBBE (with Anthony Hopkins, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Richard Dreyfuss, Helmut Berger, Linda Blair, and Elizabeth Taylor among others) airing just five months later in December, quickly followed by NBC's RAID ON ENTEBBE (headlined by Charles Bronson, Yaphet Kotto, Martin Balsam, Horst Bucholz, John Saxon, and Peter Finch in his last film) in early January 1977. Future Cannon heads Menaham Golan and Yoram Globus even got into the act, with the Golan-directed Israeli production OPERATION THUNDERBOLT (with Klaus Kinski and Sybil Danning as the hijackers) hitting theaters in January 1977. The Entebbe raid is also touched upon in other films, like THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND and the epic CARLOS, and now, over 40 years later, 7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE is yet another take on the same subject.

On June 27, 1976, Germans Wilfried "Boni" Bose (Daniel Bruhl) and Brigitte Kuhlmann (Rosamund Pike), two members of Revolutionary Cells, board an Air France jet during a layover in Athens, en route from Tel Aviv to Paris. They and some accomplices commandeer the plane and force pilot Capt. Michel Bacos (Brontis Jodorowsky, best known as the little boy in his dad Alejandro's 1970 cult classic EL TOPO) and navigator Jacques Le Moine (Denis Menochet, looking like he's auditioning for THE NICK OFFERMAN STORY) to reroute to Benghazi, Libya to refuel en route to Entebbe, Uganda, where dictator Idi Amin (Nonso Anozie) has granted them an airstrip at Entebbe Airport. The pro-Palestine Bose and Kuhlmann are far-left ideologues, with Kuhlmann a protege of incarcerated and recently-deceased Red Army Faction leader Ulrike Meinhof, who was found hanged in her cell in what was deemed a suicide but many in German terrorist circles feel was a staged execution. Once the plane lands in Entebbe and Amin gives them passage, the days drag on and as the unstable Kuhlmann keeps popping amphetamines and Bose begins to resent that the Palestinian cohorts who were waiting for them at Entebbe--under the orders of PFLO leader Wadie Haddad--and begin to muscle the Germans aside and start separating the Israeli passengers,  moving them to another room and threatening to begin killing them if Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi) doesn't release all of the Palestinian terrorists being held in Israeli prisons.

The most compelling parts of 7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE are the tense meetings with Rabin, the Israeli military, and testy Israeli Defense Minister Shimon Peres (a terrific performance by Eddie Marsan, sporting an amazing makeup job), and the debates over Israel's policy of never negotiating with terrorists (staunchly supported by Peres, who believes Rabin is deliberately stalling on a response in the hopes that he can just throw Peres under the bus). Less successful are the arcs of Bose and Kuhlmann. Pike can't do much with director Jose Padilha (ELITE SQUAD, NARCOS, and the ROBOCOP remake) and screenwriter Gregory Burke ('71) whittling her complex character--who blames herself for Meinhof's death--down to a stock "crazy bitch" act that culminates in a ridiculous scene where she calls her lover and pours her heart and her belief in the cause out to him in a long monologue on a pay phone that's not even functioning. The filmmakers don't give a pass to the Germans, but definitely want to engineer some sympathy for them as two idealistic young activists who get in way over their heads, though in one flashback scene, a Revolutionary Cells associate who's trying to talk them out of the hijacking does call Bose out as a bit of a poseur who likes to rant about oppression and the evils of capitalism while owning a small but financially successful publishing company ("You're not oppressed! You're a capitalist!" the guy yells). During the real seven days at Entebbe, Bose apparently did express some concern over the optics of being a German in a hostage situation where Israelis were being threatened with execution, but 7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE almost seems like it wants to absolve him of any wrongdoing. If Bose (and, to an extent Kuhlmann, who starts to realize they screwed up when she runs out of pills and is able to clear her head a little) really felt this way as the situation escalated way beyond the statement they wanted to make, it would hardly be the last time ideologically pure and stubbornly uncompromising far-left activists were duped into being the useful idiots that a powerful political organization requires to roll out a far more insidious plan.

For about 85 of its 107 minutes, 7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE is a generally involving hostage/political thriller despite some occasional tap-dancing around certain issues and the puzzling omission of key details, like the whole situation with elderly hostage Dora Bloch (briefly seen in a couple of scenes and played by Trudy Weiss), her disappearance during the ordeal and how her Amin-ordered execution is never even addressed. But in the home stretch, as the raid is underway (one of the commanders, and the only Israeli military officer killed during Operation Thunderbolt, was Yonatan Netanyahu--played here by Angel Bonnani--the older brother of current PM Benjamin Netanyahu), Padilha completely shits the bed by intercutting it with some footage of Israel's Batsheva Dance Company. One of the soldiers (Ben Schnetzer) is called to duty and will miss the opening night performance of his dancer girlfriend (Andrea Deck). We see the dance outfit practicing throughout and Operation Thunderbolt is intercut with their performance, with the girlfriend repeatedly falling flat on her face time and again. It's a mystery whether that's a metaphor for something happening with the raid or for Padilha himself, but it completely drains the suspense from what should be the key sequence in the film. Even the closing credits play over some dance routine with a male dancer contorting throughout the frame while a female dancer runs in place in the background. It's one of the all-time climactic derailments of what was an otherwise decent movie up to that point. Sure, it was sort-of an acceptably second-string MUNICH but Padilha's bizarre decision to turn it into what looks like snippets of a justifiably abandoned production of "Bob Fosse's ENTEBBE!" is thus far the head-scratcher of the year for 2018 moviegoing. Sure, the out-of-nowhere violent sex scene near the end of MUNICH was jarring, but it didn't instantly turn the film into a hot mess.

No comments:

Post a Comment