The latest attempt to dramatize Israel’s daring 1976 mission to rescue hijacked airplane passengers from Uganda premiered at the Berlin Film Festival this week, but the critical response to “7 Days in Entebbe” was summed up by a review calling it “One tepid week.”
The film recounts the legendary raid in which the Israel Defense Forces flew incognito to eastern Africa, liberating 94 passengers and the 12-person Air France crew being held by four terrorists at a disused airport terminal in Entebbe. The tale has been told several times previously, but “7 Days in Entebbe” is the first movie in over 40 years to focus on the incident.
The film’s poster proclaims: “284 passengers were held hostage. For the next seven days, the world was held captive.” But critics certainly weren’t when it debuted in the German capital on Monday.
U.S. trade magazine The Hollywood Reporter leads the assault against the film. “You have to wonder about the wisdom of returning, with no significant new contemporary perspective, to events covered multiple times in narrative features including ‘Victory at Entebbe,’ ‘Raid on Entebbe’ and ‘Operation Thunderbolt,’ not to mention several documentaries,” writes David Rooney. “More than those previous treatments, however, the movie just seems pedestrian in comparison to dramatically complex and dynamically structured terrorism-related dramas like ‘United 93’ or ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’”
"7 Days" is directed by José Padilha, who is best known for the “Elite Squad” movies and his limp remake of “RoboCop” in 2014). Despite the Brazilian filmmaker being noted for his ability to shoot action sequences – and that his acclaimed documentary “Bus 174” actually recounted a real-life bus hijacking in Rio de Janeiro in 2000 – Hollywood bible Variety laments how “curiously unthrilling” the movie is, noting that “a distinct air of staleness permeates the whole enterprise.”
Jessica Kiang writes that director Padilha “pulls his punches to an enervating degree, somewhat timorously locating the majority of the film’s actual conflict within the individual factions, as opposed to between them.”
The film has already generated headlines in Israel due its sidelining of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s brother, Yoni, in the actual rescue mission – which flies in the face of the common retelling of the story (Yoni Netanyahu was the army’s only fatality in the raid). Film website The Wrap notes that, instead, the film follows a fictional special-ops soldier (played by Ben Schnetzer) as he trains for the mission. “By focusing on this composite character instead of the real-life military hero who has best come to be associated with Operation Thunderbolt, ‘7 Days in Entebbe’ reiterates its more sober-minded approach,” writes critic Ben Croll.
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The review adds that “while Unit Commander Yoni Netanyahu (Angel Bonanni) does play a role here, he has much less the out-sized influence he’s given in other film versions, or even in the accepted cultural view.”
The film has three focal points: the special-ops soldier; the German terrorists Wilfried Böse and Brigitte Kuhlmann (played by Daniel Brühl and Rosamund Pike, respectively); and the power plays in the Israeli government as it debates whether to break its long-standing policy of not negotiating with terrorists.
Variety actually calls the machinations within the Israeli cabinet the film’s “most compelling drama.”
“Defense Minister Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan in peculiar eyebrows), the wily opportunist, and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (an impressive Lior Ashkenazi), the conflicted pragmatist, each try to secure the hostages’ release, but in a manner that will gain them personally the maximum political advantage,” writes Kiang.
Screen International offers faint praise, saying that “much of the film is effectively claustrophobic,” before adding that “it is too bogged down by exposition to fully take off.”
Jonathan Romney, writing in The Guardian, calls the film a “ponderous, sometimes ludicrous, number that goes through all the docudrama motions to pretty flat effect.”
Romney also notes the heavy special effects makeup employed by Marsan to look like Peres (“He looks more like Eddie Marzipan”), while The Wrap says Marsan’s defense minister “goes to war with the Israeli accent and loses.”
While The Wrap and Variety both praise the film’s decision to intercut a piece of dance theater by Batsheva Dance Company and choreographed by Ohad Naharin amid the action scenes, Romney calls it the film’s “weirdest decision.”
The dance scene “features men and women in black suits thrashing about to a piece of drumming and chanting that’s no doubt supposed to carry metaphoric force,” he writes, “but that comes across more like a Hasidic tribute to ‘Stomp!’”
“7 Days in Entebbe” opens in the United States on March 16 and in Israel on March 29.