The opening of 7 Days in Entebbe lays out its historical context in title cards that appear to the rhythm of a dance troupe’s performance, but the rest of the movie is much less effective at integrating those kinds of artistic touches into a straightforward true-life narrative. Director José Padilha helmed the forgettable 2014 remake of RoboCop as well as the Elite Squad thrillers in his native Brazil, and he’s also worked on the Netflix series Narcos, so he has plenty of experience combining tense action with political commentary, albeit not always with grace or subtlety. 7 Days errs too often on the side of talky political debate, failing to generate much suspense until its final half-hour or so.
The movie is based on the true story of a group of pro-Palestinian terrorists who hijacked an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris in July 1976, rerouting it to the town of Entebbe in Uganda, where they held the passengers and crew hostage for seven days. Padilha and screenwriter Gregory Burke lay out the events in a mostly straightforward fashion, choosing to focus on two German intellectuals, Wilfried Böse (Daniel Brühl) and Brigitte Kuhlmann (Rosamund Pike), who joined up with Palestinians to carry out the hijacking and kidnapping. The filmmakers go out of their way to make Böse and Kuhlmann sympathetic, showing how conflicted they are about the possibility of harming any civilians, and how their interest in the Palestinian cause is rooted in serious philosophical ideas and the deep national guilt that Germans carry over the actions of the Nazis in World War II.
Brühl and Pike bring a bit of complexity and emotional resonance to their characters, but the focus on the two Germans distracts from the central geopolitical issues surrounding the hijacking, and the efforts of the Israeli government to mount a rescue operation (since the majority of hostages were Israeli, and the terrorists demanded the release of prisoners from Israel) get relegated to a rote subplot. The conflict between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi) and Defense Minister Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan) over how to handle the situation plays out as a plodding series of boardroom meetings without any sense of urgency (despite the literal ticking clock).
The oddest subplot involves those dancers who open the movie, one of whom turns out to be the girlfriend of a young Israeli soldier. The couple’s personal issues are completely irrelevant to the overall narrative, and the only purpose of their presence seems to be so that Padilha can intercut the climactic action sequence (as Israeli soldiers storm the airport and rescue the hostages) with a sort of avant-garde dance performance. It’s a jarringly esoteric moment in a movie that is otherwise simple and linear, and it undermines the one thing that Padilha is genuinely good at, staging exciting action sequences. The final title cards imply a more radical political stance than was demonstrated by the preceding movie, which mostly lays out its true story in a pedestrian fashion that never rises above mildly engaging.