Jose Padilha's 7 Days in Entebbe opens with a galvanizing flurry of activity. But the bustle is not the 1976 airliner hijacking that begins the main story, or the Israeli commando raid that concludes it. The prologue is a modern-dance piece whose relationship to the rest of the movie is puzzlingly tenuous.
Several films have already been made about this historical incident, which also features in such biopics as Carlos and The Last King of Scotland. Another treatment might have been welcome if it focused tightly on some neglected aspect of the event. But the fictionalized 7 Days barely focuses at all. Even a tight timeline can't keep the movie on track.
The hijacking of the Tel-Aviv-to-Paris flight was a messy business that ended surprisingly cleanly. Only one Israeli soldier and three of the 106 remaining hostages died in the bold raid on the Uganda airport to which the plane had been diverted. (Another hostage was killed separately.)
Brazilian director Padilha and Scottish scripter Gregory Burke don't seem particularly interested in the assault's outcome, except as a real-life commotion that can be cross-cut with the choreography that punctuates the movie. Ironically, the film's editing is ineffective. It aspires to the escalating back-and-forth delirium for which Alain Resnais and Nicolas Roeg are known, but is slacker than their best work, and as predictable as the harsh pseudo-1970s cinematography. The first of the principal characters to enter are Wilfried Bose (Daniel Bruhl) and Brigitte Kuhlmann (Rosamund Pike), West German would-be revolutionaries in awkward alliance with Palestinian militants. The Germans' literally bookish ideology — Bose was a publisher of leftist texts — barely overlaps the Palestinians' more visceral sense of grievance. When the Palestinians take control of the operation and separate Jewish passengers from the other hostages, Bose realizes he's become a German who oppresses Jews, just 30 years after the Holocaust. Kuhlmann is less concerned about that, perhaps because she's gobbled so many pills that she doesn't know what she's doing. (The movie doesn't reveal that Bose and Kuhlmann were ex-lovers, which can't have helped their outlooks as the hijacking unraveled.)
Meanwhile in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi) debates the best response with Defense Minister Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan). These sequences don't attempt documentary-style realism. Instead, they stagily deliver well-chewed truisms from the eternal conversation about war and peace and toughness versus conciliation.
The movie briefly introduces a few of the hostages, notably a courageous flight-crew engineer and an older woman with a number tattooed on her arm, but most of them are no more central to the story than the dancers who gyrate in and out. Idi Amin (Nonso Anozie) also has a walk-on, but his flamboyant character is merely sketched, and his brutal response to the raid unmentioned. Padilha, probably best known for the streaming series Narcos, debuted with 2002's Bus 174, a riveting documentary about a hostage situation on a Rio de Janeiro bus. Burke wrote Black Watch, an acclaimed play about Scottish troops in Iraq, and the movie '71, in which a lone British soldier tries to survive a night in Belfast at the height of The Troubles. Both Bus 174 and '71 distilled moments of madness into potent, telling miniatures of their respective societies. 7 Days in Entebbe lacks their powers of concentration. The movie's individual parts are respectable, but the way they've been cut together merely blunts their impact.