By Liam Lacey
The 1976 Israeli commando raid on the airport at Entebbe, was one of those historical clean wins for Israel. In a daring night-time raid, Israeli commandos flew more than 2,500 miles and saved the lives of more than 100 Air France passengers and crew.
That said, there’s no clear reason why the new movie, 7 Days in Entebbe, was made now.
At best, it’s moderately helpful as a memory jog of about the mission that became emblematic of Israel’s reputation for military efficiency. An Air France jet, carrying 248 passengers, was hijacked by two Germans and two Palestinians, and taken to Uganda's main airport where they were held captive.
Non-Israelis were allowed to leave. From there, the plan was to start killing hostages and keep on doing so until Israel released political prisoners. While the Israelis bargained for time, they sent in four planes with commandos and, after a 90-minute firefight, saved all aboard and took them home again. Along with books and documentaries, there were two popular 1976 dramas on the subject, the TV movie Victory at Entebbe with Anthony Hopkins and Elizabeth Taylor and Raid on Entebbe with Peter Finch and Charles Bronson.
After watching the new version, I still have no clear idea why it was made. In a stab at relevance, the movie attempts to be even-handed, as it flips back and forth between points of view of hijackers and the Israeli cabinet and their parallel conflicts. The cabinet conflict features English actor, Eddie Marsan as the hardline Israeli Defense Minister Shimon Peres and Lior Ashkenazi as the more negotiation-friendly Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin.
In the plane, and in Uganda, we see a lot of the two German hijackers, aspiring revolutionaries associated with the Baader-Meinhof gang. The hardliner is Brigitte Kehlmann (Rosamund Pike) - a true believer who’s ready to kill for a bright future -- and the more humanitarian Wilifried Bose (Daniel Brühl), a former bookseller who, somewhat belatedly, realizes he's another German holding Jews at gunpoint: "I didn't come here to be a camp guard," he frets.
There’s also a fictional subplot, from the perspective of an everyday Israeli soldier (Ben Schnetzer). His girlfriend is a modern dancer (Zina Zinchenko) rehearsing for a dance (performed by the real-life Batsheva Dance Company) that simulates a semi-circle of people getting shot. In the climactic scene, her stage debut is intercut with the climactic raid on the terminal. Neither the aesthetic appeal of the dance performance nor excitement of the raid is improved by the juxtaposition.
There are many more examples of such narrative clunkiness in this curiously old-fashioned movie, where Germans, Israelis, Palestinians and French all speak in English with accents, and stand for representative ideological positions. Particularly caricaturistic are Marson's Shimon Perez, all prosthetic caterpillar eyebrows and knowing sneers, and Pike, a pill-popping revolutionary with a far-away stare. Presumably, we are supposed to understand she's transfixed by her vision of the future socialist utopia.
In 2002, Brazilian director, José Padilha (Robocop, Elite Squad) made a terrific hijacking doc, Bus 174 set in his own country. But tension eludes 7 Days in Entebbe, which is a drama about a prolonged stand-off in which we already know the conclusion. Screenwriter Gregory Burke previously wrote the intense Northern Irish thriller, '71, about a young English soldier who gets lost in the wrong part of Belfast during the peak of the Northern Irish conflict. But here he falters, putting didactic speeches into every character's mouth.
Here’s a Palestinian hijacker talking to his German counterpart: “You are here because you hate your country. I am here because I love mine!”
Fun paradox! Otherwise, the Palestinian perspective is notable for its absence.
7 Days in Entebbe concludes with a title card calling for a return to Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, which is a noble sentiment, though the story doesn't actually support that conclusion. Surely the lesson here is that you pretend to negotiate while buying time to load your commandos on a plane.
Director: José Padilha. Screenplay: Gregory Burke. Staring: Daniel Brühl, Rosamund Pike, Eddie Marsan and Lior Ashkenazi. 7 Days in Entebbe is at the Carlton Cinema and the Cineplex Yonge-Dundas