This Is a Movie Review: ‘7 Days in Entebbe’ Takes the Tension Out of Hijacking, But It Has Really Great Dance Scenes

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CREDIT: Liam Daniel/Focus Features

This review was originally published on News Cult in March 2018.

Starring: Daniel Brühl, Rosamund Pike, Lior Ashkenazi, Eddie Marsan, Mark Ivanir, Denis Ménochet

Director: José Padilha

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Threats of Violence Moreso Than Actual Violence and Outbursts Under Pressure

Release Date: March 16, 2018 (Moderate)

What does it mean when the best parts of a docudrama about a hijacking and a hostage rescue are its dance scenes? I don’t think this happens often enough to make any generalized conclusion, but in the case of 7 Days in Entebbe, it means that the dance parts are enthralling, while the actual meat of the story is not particularly attention-grabbing. And that is a problem, because while the dancing does take up a relatively significant portion of the running time, it still only amounts to about 10%. If Entebbe had suddenly turned into a full-fledged presentation of hoofing it up, it would certainly be strange and it would go against the promise its premise makes, but it would be a whole hell of a lot more interesting than what we have.

The nominal focus of the film is the 1976 hijacking of a plane en route from Tel Aviv to Paris by a group of two Germans and two Palestinians. They take the passengers hostage, rerouting them to Uganda, where they stow them away with the unlikely help of Ugandan president Idi Amin. They demand a ransom and the release of Palestinian and pro-Palestinian militants, making some provocative statements along the way, such as a claim that Israel is “the heir of Nazism.” The hostage operation offers little in the way of knuckle-biting thrills, and the film’s political bent is too ill-defined to say anything much beyond, “Israel and Palestine are stuck in an eternal impasse.”

But back to the dancing, because that’s the only aspect of this film that I really want to talk about. Choreographed by Ohad Naharin and performed by the Batsheva Dance Company, the dance scenes are justified by a subplot in which one of the dancers is the girlfriend of an Israeli commando. That justification is remarkably thin, but not unwelcome, considering the electric charge of the performances. About a dozen dancers are arranged sitting in chairs in a semicircle, popping up in stiff poses when the music hits an explosive note. The commando’s girlfriend has been struggling, and she keeps falling when everyone else stands up. But this routine is so powerful that that mistake could legitimately be part of the routine, and it would make perfect sense. Bottom line: if you’re an action aficionado, Entebbe will be sorely disappointing, but if you’re an appreciator of dance, summon the patience to deal with some boring action for the opportunity to witness some brilliant movement.

7 Days in Entebbe is Recommended If You Like: The existential prison of the Israel-Palestine conflict, Pina

Grade: 2 out of 5 Humanitarian Hijackers

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Foxtrot’ Takes the Book of Job to Modern-Day Israel

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CREDIT: Sony Pictures Classics

This review was originally posted on News Cult in February 2018.

Starring: Lior Ashkenazi, Yonaton Shiray, Sarah Adler, Shira Haas

Director: Samuel Maoz

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Rating: R for Shocking, Sudden Violence and Exaggerated Comic Book Nudity

Release Date: March 2, 2018 (Limited)

All life is suffering, at least according to the Judeo-Christian view. There’s a particular strain on the Judeo side of things that goes at least as far back as the Old Testament, specifically the Book of Job, in which humans are pawns in a system of dramatic irony at the hands of a confounding god. The Coen brothers took a deep dive into this mythology with A Serious Man, and now Samuel Maoz’s Israeli film Foxtrot takes it to particularly tragic ends. The result is a striking look at the toll borne by individuals living constantly on the edge of conflict.

Foxtrot begins with Tel Aviv couple Michael (Lior Ashkenazi) and Dafna Feldmann (Sarah Adler) informed that their soldier son Jonathan (Yonaton Shiray) has fallen in the line of duty. At first it looks like the film’s focus will be an examination of the effects of shock. Dafna immediately faints and remains unconscious for the first thirty minutes or so. Michael is able to remain awake, but he must rely on an alarm clock to remind him to drink water at regular intervals so as to keep his anxiety in check. It is an awfully clinical approach to take towards any film, and in this case it would seem to be promising a profound slog. But Foxtrot goes more mammoth and less straightforward. It is an emotional rollercoaster, with a force from beyond controlling the dips and the turns. When the focus shifts to what Jonathan is up to, the truth is brought into fuller, clearer focus. The irony comes to the fore, serving up the twin lessons that tragedy is both not as bad as it originally appears and also that it is just as bad as it originally appears.

An affluent middle-class couple dealing with loss is an unfortunately too frequent story present throughout the world. Jonathan’s portion of the story, meanwhile, is particularly resonant in its Israeli setting, but its existential milieu is also a significant aspect of the general human experience. He is assigned to a crossing outpost, and his days are mostly filled with waiting. Occasionally he lifts a crossing gate to let a camel walk through. But that boring setup belies the constant potential for explosiveness.

Foxtrot makes itself felt by interspersing a mostly steady, even-keeled narrative with occasional bursts of tragedy and character revelation. The latter is felt most strongly in an animated section in the form of a comic book drawn by Jonathan that tells his father’s story. The Feldmanns are not a particularly voluble family, which is why this subtextual understanding between father and son (also demonstrated by their shared love of the titular dance) is so appreciated. For a Job-like existence to be bearable, there needs to be love.

Foxtrot is Recommended If You Like: The Book of Job, A Serious Man, Finding bits of humor in the most tragic situations

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Camels