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European films

7 Days in Entebbe film review: fact-based hijacking drama is neither thrilling nor a barbed commentary on the Middle East

Retelling of one of the most famous hostage-rescue missions in history sets out to humanise hijackers and decision makers, but its Brazilian director appears terrified of offending anybody and the result is a film both safe and unsatisfying

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 March, 2018, 1:04pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 March, 2018, 1:04pm

2.5/5 stars

More than 40 years after the event, “Operation Thunderbolt” is still widely regarded as one of the most successful hostage-rescue missions in history. 7 Days in Entebbe recreates this politically delicate mission, with at the helm Jose Padilha, the Brazilian director who displayed a flair for provocative thrillers with his explosive Elite Squad films.

In 1976, an Air France flight carrying close to 250 passengers, many of them Jewish, was hijacked by a group of Palestinian and German radicals, and diverted to the rogue African nation of Uganda. Once on the ground at Entebbe airport, the terrorists – protected by Uganda’s deranged dictator, General Idi Amin – demanded the Israeli government release their incarcerated comrades.

After seven long days, 100 Israeli Defence Force commandos descended on Entebbe airport in a dazzling display of tactical strength and gun-toting badassery that proved impossible for Hollywood to ignore. The operation inspired a flurry of screen adaptations, featuring such cinematic luminaries as Anthony Hopkins, Elizabeth Taylor, Charles Bronson and Klaus Kinski.

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Rather than emulate these sensationalist spectacles, 7 Days in Entebbe seeks to understand and humanise the hostage takers and decision makers.

Daniel Brühl and Rosamund Pike play the German hijackers as naive idealists, the unwitting products of right-on radicalisation rather than committed anti-Semites. Meanwhile, the ideological clashes between Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi) and defence minister Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan) are clumsily filtered through four decades of new-found perspective.

Padilha tells us little about the hostages or the commandos, but repeatedly cuts away to an energetic avant-garde dance performance, as if desperate to connect these events to contemporary Jewish culture. The director’s breakthrough Brazilian films were searing takedowns of violence for political gain, but here he appears out of his comfort zone and terrified of causing offence.

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Neither a rousing military showcase nor a barbed commentary on the Middle East, 7 Days in Entebbe is both safe and unsatisfying.

7 Days in Entebbe opens on March 15

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