A film that depicts a high-stress hijacking, followed by one of the most daring rescue missions in history ought to reflect the hardships, emotions and complications that came with those events. 7 Days in Entebbe makes a solid effort to do just that; however, it gets confused along the way. Director José Padilha tries to present the situation holistically, offering the perspectives of all the groups that were directly involved: the German and Palestinian hijackers, the hostages, the Israeli government, and the soldiers who were sent in for the rescue. This holistic presentation, though, leaves almost all of the characters underdeveloped. Further, with so much time focused on introducing the many perspectives, the film fails to offer a straightforward explanation of Operation Entebbe. Together, unsympathetic characters, an unclear situation, and a heavy-handed attempt at paralleling an artistic motif with the events of Entebbe make 7 Days a misfire.
The biggest mistake of this film is the assumption that the audience knows exactly what is going on. Operation Entebbe is not prominent enough in American public historical memory to skip over what would have been a plot-grounding exposition. As more and more characters and perspectives are introduced, a clear presentation of the mechanics of the situation are lost in the shuffle of fact-stuffed dialogue. At times, 7 Days turns into a government drama, with the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister pulling long hours to save the lives of the hostages. By the time that perspective has been introduced, though, the film is off in the direction of the half-hearted love story of Viz and his girlfriend. Somewhere near the middle, Idi Amin (Nonso Anozie) is tossed a supporting role. Through all of it, though, the basic, expository facts are lost. There is clearly a lot of information to be conveyed here, as is true with many films about historical events, but 7 Days of Entebbe would have benefitted from cutting out much of the unnecessary detail and spending time instead on clearly presenting the basic facts of the situation in some sort of exposition scene or sequence. Instead, the film opts for a dance number.
The main characters are the German hijackers, Wilfried (Daniel Brühl) and Brigitte (Rosamund Pike.) Not content to lead “meaningless lives,” Böse and Kuhlmann see the Palestinian cause as a chance to fight against Israel and do something big. Yet as the situation escalates, neither is sure they can kill their hostages, partially disheartened by the obvious Holocaust parallel. A poignant scene in which non-Israeli, Jewish hostages are separated from the other passengers shows the conflict of the hijackers, but it comes across as surface level, more to do with how their actions will be perceived, rather than how they feel about themselves. Prime minister Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi) and Defence Minister Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan) are also given some attention. Their responses, too, seem mostly to do with how they will look as a result of their choices. The character who gets the most development is Ziv (Ben Schnetzer), a soldier in the rescue unit. His strained relationship with his girlfriend is given much more attention than is necessary and feels forced.
Though interesting to watch, the opening dance scene is entirely disconnected from the first three-quarters of the film. It is only later that the scene is put into the context of the relationship between Ziv and his girlfriend, a side plot with little heart used primarily as a way of haphazardly developing Unit Commander Yoni Netanyahu (Angel Bonanni.) The film ends on the same scene, cross-cut into scenes of the rescue of the hostages, to unsubtly insinuate a dance/quasi-war metaphor. After the film and prior to the credits, real footage of the hostages’ return to their families is shown. Though the audience is expected to feel sympathetic here, the effect is lost, as the hostages were afforded barely any individual focus.
7 Days in Entebbe is a fun watch at times; some high-energy scenes save it from falling completely flat, but it ultimately fails at its goal of re-presenting Operation Entebbe. Brühl and Pike give outstanding performances which beg for sympathetic responses, but their underdeveloped characters prevent audiences from feeling much of anything. With so many perspectives and characters to present in so little time, no one element of the film gets the attention it needs to be sympathetic or well understood by audiences. Padilha bit off too much with this attempt at offering a varied perspective on an old story.