There are parts of this film where I was just going “Why is nobody talking about this film?” and then there are large stretches where 7 Days in Entebbe is just boringly average and you realize why nobody is talking about it. But still, José Padilha’s latest has some exhilarating heights it reaches even if the overall effect is a strange underwhelming feeling.
In 1976, members of the People’s Force for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked a plane going from Tel Aviv to Paris to bring awareness to the people of Palestine’s plight, holding the hostages for 7 days in Entebbe, Uganda during the reign of Idi Amin. In addition from all that, the film delves into the planning and execution of one of the most audacious hostage rescue missions in history by Israeli forces.
I’m a big fan of José Padilha. His Elite Squad films are just that – elite. I don’t blame him for how much of a mess his RoboCop remake was. He tried. It made sense with his sense for cops and criminals cinema that he could do something with this film, but then the studio completely screwed him and forced him to turn in something bland and unambitious. Please don’t let that film decide for you what kind of filmmaker Padilha is. Entebbe contains sequences of him at his most arresting, directing his camera in a convincing docu-drama verite style mixed with Scorsese-like deliberate camera dollies. To refer back to me wondering why nobody was talking about this film, that thought occurred twice. The first was the opening scene, where we’re watching an interpretative dance troupe for reasons unknown while the titles tell us the history of the region and conflicts. The second came at the superb climax, while the rescue operation is happening set to that same interpretative dance performance. It’s just absolutely gripping, you’re almost wondering where filmmaking like this has been the whole film.
Looking around at what other critics are writing, it’s clear I liked it more than most, but I’m completely with them on its flaws. It tries too hard to simplify the things that should twist you up – you feel strangely unchallenged by the film. It tries to shove in a comment about peace in the middle east at the end that feels out of place because you never felt that the film was working on that thematic level, it was more interested in just portraying what happened. Gregory Burke’s script tries to make you care about everyone involved, but doesn’t really succeed at it despite a talented cast of Rosamund Pike, Daniel Brühl, Lior Ashkenazi, Eddie Marsan and others. Take Captain Phillips for example, that film did a great job of getting you to empathize with both sides of the conflict. You truly understood why these pirates were doing what they were doing, and felt a bit of sorrow when they were inevitably killed. It’s a hard balance to ride, and unfortunately Padilha just can’t seem to make you feel for the hijackers like he wants you to. At a certain point, I wondered if this might make a better documentary. And hey, Padilha could still direct it, we know he’s more than capable of documentary filmmaking after Bus 174. But in the end, it was just nice to see Padilha get back to the gritty, docu-drama filmmaking that he excels at, even if it’s not him at his best. It takes time to rehab from something like RoboCop, and he’s showing encouraging improvement here.