'7 Days in Entebbe' misfires

In 7 Days, the plot is centered on the two German terrorists, Brigitte Kuhlmann and Wilfred Bose, played by the very attractive duo of Daniel Bruhl and Rosamund Pike.

Rosamund Pike and Daniel Bruhl star in 7 Days in Entebbe (photo credit: LIAM DANIEL)
Rosamund Pike and Daniel Bruhl star in 7 Days in Entebbe
(photo credit: LIAM DANIEL)
The filmmakers behind 7 Days in Entebbe, a new feature film about the 1976 hostage-taking incident, don’t want you to cheer when the hostages held by German and Palestinian terrorists and guarded by the Ugandan army are released in a dramatic raid by Israeli commandos. They want you to reflect on and reevaluate this raid, to consider whether it was really necessary.
Most of all, they want you to see the events from the point of view of the terrorists, particularly the Germans, who collected passports and separated the Israelis from the other Air France passengers.
That seems to be the main goal behind the decision to make this film about a rescue that has been dramatized several times already, both in here and abroad. In Israel, the Oscar-nominated Golan-Globus film Operation Thunderbolt is so beloved that Joseph Cedar even included a sequence in his film Campfire that showed youth group members watching it reverently, reciting the dialogue from memory.
In 7 Days, the plot is centered on the two German terrorists, Brigitte Kuhlmann and Wilfred Bose, played by the very attractive duo of Daniel Bruhl and Rosamund Pike.
We get their backstories in detail: she feels that her mistakes led to the arrest of her mentor, Ulrike Meinhof, and she is driven by guilt, while he is a hyper-intellectual publisher with a sense of humor and an inferiority complex.
The rest of the characters are totally one-dimensional. One of the Palestinians – and it’s no surprise I don’t remember his name – talks about how Israelis killed his family in Lebanon. But he only gets that dialogue so he can question the motivations of the Germans. “You’re doing this because you hate your country,” he tells Bose. “I’m doing it because I love mine.”
Movies that focus mainly on American or European characters in international and Third World settings have come in for a great deal of criticism lately, most recently the upcoming Jon Hamm film Beirut. So it’s curious that in 7 Days, the only people with depth and complexity are the two Germans.
Even though Bruhl manages to make Bose into an affable nebbish – against heavy odds – nothing can change the fact that virtually everyone in any audience will identify with the hostages and root for their survival, no matter what they may think of Israeli policies or European politics.
The other main plot thread is the Israeli government’s discussion of how to handle the situation. Weirdly, the Israeli politicians and soldiers speak English at all times, although the Israeli hostages converse in Hebrew. The Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi, who is quite good although he doesn’t physically resemble Rabin) wants to negotiate with the terrorists, while defense minister Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan, a British actor best known for playing Ray Donovan’s brother, and an offbeat choice for this role) believes it is necessary to take a hard line. It seems their stilted debates are meant to foreshadow future choices by the Israeli government, such as the signing of the Oslo Accords, but these scenes lack authenticity.
For example, I would bet every shekel in the Bank of Israel that when Rabin was told that over 100 hostages had been saved, he did not say, “But we are going to have to start negotiating, Shimon, if we ever want this war to end.”
The Israeli soldiers are rather bland, but if the filmmakers wanted to make Yonatan Netanyahu, the current prime minister’s brother and the commander of the Sayeret Matkal unit, who was killed in the raid, seem less heroic, they should not have cast Angel Bonanni in this role. If it does nothing else, this movie could turn Bonanni, who has the screen presence of a semitic Gary Cooper or Gregory Peck, into an international star. The Netanyahu family was reportedly unhappy with the decision to show Yonatan dying early in the raid rather than at the end, but that is a distinction that will be lost on most audiences.
In an odd but effective cinematic touch, the movie opens with a performance of Echad Mi Yodea by the Batsheva dance company, and cuts back to this several times. That athletic, high-energy dance choreographed by Ohad Naharin, who is briefly a character in the film, is there ostensibly because one of the commandos has a girlfriend in the company, played by Zina Zinchenko, a real-life Batsheva dancer.
But it creates a certain excitement that the rest of the film lacks. Over the closing credits, Batsheva dancer Or Schraiber performs another Naharin piece.
Director Jose Padilha, best known for the television series Narcos and the 2014 Robocop remake, seems to be conflicted about the story he is trying to tell. He must know that people who point guns at children’s heads, no matter how noble their long-term goals may be, are inherently unsympathetic and that any dialogue in which they give their point of view will be less gripping than the final scene in which the hostages are freed. He seems to want to create suspense over whether Bose in particular is changed by his contact with the hostages, but this dilemma carries little weight.
In one of the best-written scenes in the movie, as the Air France flight engineer (Denis Ménochet) tries to fix clogged toilets at the airport, he tells Bose, “One plumber is worth 10 publishers.”
Audiences who see 7 Days might be forgiven for thinking that one plumber is worth at least 10 screenwriters.
With Daniel Bruhl, Rosamund Pike, Lior Ashkenazi, Eddie Marsan. 107 minutes.
Hebrew title: “Sheva Yamim b’Entebbe.” In English, German, French and Hebrew, check with theaters for subtitle information.