The events surrounding the daring 1976 Israeli commando raid to rescue hostages in Entebbe, Uganda, following the hijacking of a French jetliner is re-created in this strangely unsatisfying movie. Rating: 2 stars out of 4.
The story of the daring 1976 Israeli military raid to rescue 106 hostages in Entebbe, Uganda, following the hijacking of a French passenger jet has already been the subject of three previous features — the Hollywood-made “Raid on Entebbe” and ”Victory at Entebbe,” and “Operation Thunderbolt,” produced in Israel — along with several documentaries. Those movies were all released within months of the operation.
Now, 40-plus years later, comes “7 Days in Entebbe” from director José Padilha. It’s a product of some very strange creative decisions by the Brazilian-born filmmaker.
The strangest: Padilha introduces the picture with a sequence featuring a modern-dance performance by Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company. The result? Instant confusion. What the …?
The narrative portion of the picture then begins, but Padilha returns to the dancers at several points throughout the movie. The dance is apparently intended to comment on the action and themes in the picture, but the scenes break the continuity in a manner that is joltingly distracting. At the climax, Padilha intercuts dance footage with his re-creation of the actual raid by Israeli commandos. He skims through the rescue. Like the dance interludes, the climactic action is nearly wordless. Also, a great deal of it takes place in slow motion. The end result is likely to leave viewers scratching their heads. What the …?
The script by Gregory Burke puts a great deal of the emphasis on the hijackers and their motivations. Two, Wilfried Böse (Daniel Brühl) and Brigitte Kuhlmann (Rosamund Pike), are self-styled leftist German revolutionaries. The other hostage takers (Ehab Bahous, Amir Khoury, Noof McEwan and Omar Berdouni) are Palestinian members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — External Operations, a terrorist arm of the larger group.
The Germans, Böse especially, are portrayed as misguided idealists who find themselves increasingly out of their depth as the Palestinians separate the Jews from the other passengers with the intention of executing them if their demands that the Israeli government free imprisoned Palestinian militants are not met. “We did not agree to this,” Böse says to the Palestinians.
Meanwhile in Israel, the government grapples with the wrenching issue of whether to bargain for the hostages’ release, breaking longstanding Israeli policy of never negotiating with terrorists. The alternative is to authorize the incredibly high-risk, long-distance (2,500 miles, one way) rescue mission. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi) is reluctantly in favor of negotiating while Defense Minister Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan) urges Rabin to approve the rescue, as the selection of the Jewish passengers for execution is intolerable with its obvious parallels to the Holocaust.
The blending of the realistic elements such as the planning and preparations for the raid with the more surreal aspects of the picture feels forced and awkward. In real life, the raid was an astonishing success, but the movie is ultimately a failure.
★★ “7 Days in Entebbe,” with Daniel Brühl, Rosamund Pike, Lior Ashkenazi, Eddie Marsan, Ehab Bahous, Amir Khoury, Noof McEwan, Omar Berdouni. Directed by José Padilha, from a screenplay by Gregory Burke. 107 minutes. Rated PG-13 for violence, some thematic material, drug use, smoking and brief strong language. Several theaters.