Unless it’s complicated by something like human feeling, and a recognition of the human beings on both sides of any bloody ideological conflict, true-life heroism has a tendency to look a little synthetic on screen. It’s what sells, of course.
And it’s an easy emotional sale if The Other in the story — the Viet Cong in “The Green Berets”; virtually everyone on the receiving end of Chris Kyle’s rifle in “American Sniper” — remains a vaguely subhuman blank.
Is this why the successful Israeli commando raid on the Entebbe, Uganda, airport, saving dozens of Israeli passengers held hostage in the 1976 pro-Palestine terrorist hijacking of an Air France passenger jet, has so much trouble working as a movie?
This much can be said of the latest attempt, “7 Days in Entebbe.” It excuses nothing the terrorists did, but the film juggles points of view and toggles between various factions caught up in a diplomatic crisis. Some pro-Israel newspapers covering the film’s Berlin Film Festival premiere earlier this year noted its muted triumphalism, and noted further the film’s depiction of the climactic raid, which shows Israel Defense Forces unit commander Yonatan Netanyahu (the brother of Benjamin) as dying early in the raid, not near the end.
Such details will mean a great deal to some of the film’s potential audience, and less so to others. Either way, “7 Days in Entebbe” is an honorable, evenhanded but curiously flat interpretation of events.
Screenwriter Gregory Burke ticks off the days of the title, beginning with the midair hijacking conducted by two Palestinian members of the revolutionary Popular Front and, primary in the narrative, two German-born members of the ultra-left Revolutionary Cells. Daniel Bruhl (“The Alienist”) and Rosamund Pike receive top billing as Wilifried Bose and Brigitte Kuhlmann, ideologues who find themselves over their heads very quickly.
Air France Flight 139 took off from Tel Aviv, Israel, for Paris, with an Athens, Greece, stop en route. The jetliner ultimately landed in Entebbe where, with the blessing of Ugandan President Idi Amin (Nonso Anozie), the terrorists held 106 hostages, overwhelmingly Israeli, for ransom.
Working from Burke’s screenplay, the Brazilian director Jose Padilha (“Narcos”) cuts between the increasingly tense passengers, confined to a sweaty corner of the Entebbe airport terminal; the infighting among the terrorists; and the high-level political and military planning put into action by Israeli Defense Minister Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan), a no-negotiation hard-liner, and Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi), depicted here as the conflicted pragmatist.
Padilha’s key invention is the composite character of a commando soldier (Ben Schnetzer), whose dancer girlfriend (Zina Zinchenko) appears in choreographed sequences used as prologue, epilogue and, more dubiously, montage fodder mixed up with the raid preparations. The choreography’s well-known: Performed on screen by the Batsheva Dance Company, Ohad Naharin’s “Echad Mi Yodea” places 15 dancers in a semicircle, dressed as Haredim, throwing off their garb as if under attack.
It’s a striking element, but it big-foots the movie, which is never terrible, nor never more than dramatically adequate. Putting the characters played by Bruhl and Pike at the center of things has the unfortunate effect of German-splaining the Middle Eastern conflict; putting distractingly inauthentic eyebrows on Marsan’s face has the unfortunate effect of pulling focus in a subtly undermining way.
It’s odd, really: The team assembled for this project looked ideal on paper. Padilha’s hijacking documentary “Bus 174” helped convince producers Tim Bevan and Kate Solomon (“United 93”) that he was their director. Screenwriter Burke wrote the tense, effective “’71,” set in Belfast during the “troubles.” “7 Days in Entebbe” is the work of smart people who never quite figured out how to tell this story, or these stories.
‘7 Days in Entebbe’
Directed by: Jose Padilha
Starring: Daniel Bruhl, Rosamund Pike, Nonso Anozie, Eddie Marsan, Lior Ashkenazi
Rated: PG-13 Grade: C+
Running time: 107 minutes