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7 Days in Entebbe

José Padilha’s docudrama is a straightforward re-telling of the 1976 hijacking

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Back in the so-called “golden age of airline hijackings” in the late 1960s and 1970s, one of the more notorious skyjackings was Air France Flight 139 in the summer of 1976. Traveling from Tel Aviv to Paris, it was taken over, after an Athens stop-over, by four hijackers — two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and two Germans from the Revolutionary Cells. The flight turned south and refueled in Libya, before landing at Entebbe Airport, in Uganda. There, holed up in the former airport terminal, a couple hundred hostages and their captors waited — for negotiations to start, for possible release, for Uganda’s President Idi Amin to drop by and chat, for a possible military strike. 

The hijacking and subsequent events have been the subject of other films, most notably 1977’s Raid on Entebbe, starring such heavyweights as Peter Finch and Charles Bronson. Now Brazilian director José Padilha tackles it. Padilha most recently directed the 2014 remake of RoboCop, but he also directed the 2002 documentary, Bus 174, about a bus hijacking.

It’s a straightforward re-telling, with just a flashback or two to sketch in the motivations of the hijackers, with the film focusing chiefly on the Germans, Wilfried Böse (Daniel Brühl) and Brigitte Kuhlmann (Rosamund Pike). The action splits between two concurrent threads: the hostage situation in Entebbe, and discussions among Israeli politicians and military leaders about how to proceed. (As the plane originated in Tel Aviv, the majority of the passengers were Israeli or Jewish.) Defense minister Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan) argues for a military raid, while Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi) ponders negotiations. Meanwhile, off to the side, a young soldier trains for a possible military action, while his girlfriend rehearses a modern-dance performance. (Yes, there is a dramatic interpretative dance number intertwined with this story.) 

The “action” — most of it waiting around — unfolds over seven days, and ultimately, 7 Days doesn’t deliver much more than the TV movies of the 1970s. It’s an interesting historical event, but given the standard docudrama treatment. The characters are mostly one-dimensional, stand-ins for whatever idea they are espousing, and there’s little to engage with emotionally. And, of course, the outcome of the Entebbe situation is well known. What’s apt to generate the most interest is hardly a cause for celebration — and that’s the Israeli-Palestinian dispute that spurred the hijacking and which continues today. It’s a sign of our times — the Golden Age of Internet Opinion Warfare — that even while watching the film I could already hear the arguments. 


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