After three fictionalized accounts and at least twice as many documentaries, Operation Entebbe (also known as Operation Thunderbolt) has long been included in the annals of pop culture. Within a year of the highjacking, you could choose between experiencing the story dramatized by either Anthony Hopkins and Burt Lancaster or Peter Finch and Charles Bronson. Now, the story is being recounted once more in José Padilha’s (2014’s Robocop remake, the Elite Squad films) 7 Days in Entebbe, caught somewhere between 21st century update and vintage throwback. Boasting a cast of international A-listers, this reimagining of the sobering hostage negotiation strives to balance its conflicting worldviews with modern-day cultural sensitivity, often through the use of interpretive dance.
As its name would suggest, the film surrounds the commando operation to save 246 Israeli hostages aboard an Air France passenger jet stalled at a Ugandan airport in the blistering summer of 1976. Daniel Bruhl and Rosamund Pike lead the pack as Wilfried Böse and Brigitte Kuhlmann, two pro-Palestine radicals who quickly — and far too late — discover just how little control they have on the situation.
Caught in a continual identity crisis, 7 Days in Entebbe spends the majority of its energy wracking its brain in order to determine whether it is a gritty action thriller, an unhurried political drama, or an exercise in moral relativism. Stretching the reach of one of the most well-known counter-terrorist hostage-rescue missions in recent memory, the film posits revisionist history to pad the runtime in a haphazard attempt at building suspense. While the powers that be are busy trying to make the audience squirm, they often forget the only saving grace in stories of heroism: the exploration of the humanity underneath. Even when Gregory Burke’s script does try to wax philosophical, it doesn’t spend much time on geopolitical grey areas. Here, we are rarely given much more than a boilerplate tale of good vs. evil.
Padilha doesn’t do the tonal disconnect any favors with his odd creative decisions. Before we are given any narrative, 7 Days in Entebbe opens with a modern-dance performance by Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company, setting the scene for a significantly different film. The dancers return sporadically — an apparent, if misguided, commentary on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict — but their performances always feel at odds with the action sequences and political debates surrounding them. Perhaps the film would have thrived if it had only operated within these moments; the wordless, slow-motion reenactments are preferable to the film’s overly simplistic, on-the-nose dialogue (“You are here because you hate your country. I am here because I love mine.”).
It’s rare to see a story this stirring told by a filmmaker so tone-deaf as to what its most compelling aspects are. This isn’t enough of an improvement over the rushed, thoughtless made-for-TV adaptations of the 1970s to justify its own existence. 7 Days in Entebbe isn’t a trainwreck, but, aside from its awkward, forced interludes, it feels determined to be aggressively average. Its legacy will be to stock the bland spread of an airline’s on-demand offerings.