UK Release Date: 11th May 2018
Runtime: 107 minutes
Director: José Padilha
Writer: Gregory Burke
Starring: Daniel Brühl, Rosamund Pike, Eddie Marsan, Lior Ashkenazi, Nonso Anozie, Ben Schnetzer
Synopsis: Pro-Palestinian activists take a plane full of Israelis hostage in an attempt to blackmail their government into releasing imprisoned colleagues, triggering an intense political crisis.
The true story of Operation Entebbe – in which Israeli forces attempted to rescue more than 100 hostages from a Ugandan airport – has been dramatised a number of times, with three adaptations released during the 1970s. Decades after the real event, there’s a new take on the story from José Padilha, who most famously made the awful remake of RoboCop a few years ago. In a desperate attempt to distance himself from previous stories based on these events, Padilha delves into an entirely unnecessary bag of tricks that distract from the excitement of the thrilling true story.
The setup is accomplished through the eyes of German activists Wilfried (Daniel Brühl) and Brigitte (Rosamund Pike), who are part of a pro-Palestinian team that hijacks an Air France flight carrying almost 250 passengers. They divert the plane to Entebbe Airport in Uganda, where dictator Idi Amin (Nonso Anozie) lends them military support. The hijackers eventually release non-Israeli passengers and demand the release of Palestinian activists being held by the government. Defense Minister Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan) is tasked with devising a potential military solution to the hostage crisis.
When it focuses on the mechanics of its true story, Entebbe is a tense and absorbing tale. The hijacking sequences have an energy that was completely absent from RoboCop and that gives way to interesting moral turmoil for Brühl and Pike, who are conflicted as Germans playing a role in the potential killing of Jews. They believe they are completely ideologically correct – Brühl yells “we’re humanitarians” when controlling the hostages – but begin to question what they have become a part of when Amin, played with chilling calm by Anozie, puts the murder of children on the table.
These scenes of mounting doubt are intercut with equally tense and fraught political discussions in the corridors of Israeli power. Marsan is tremendously single-minded as Peres, while Lior Ashkenazi does a stellar job of portraying the troubled PM Yitzhak Rabin, who gradually unravels as the pressure to make a decision looms. It’s that same ideological focus that sometimes dooms the movie, though, as Gregory Burke’s script is occasionally too much of a blunt instrument. When Brühl’s character, without a trace of irony, says he wants “to throw bombs into the consciousness of the masses”, it becomes tough to stifle a giggle.
Out of a desire to be different to previous takes on the sensational material, Entebbe introduces a bizarre stylistic flourish. There’s a subplot running throughout the film involving a soldier (Pride star Ben Schnetzer) and his dancer girlfriend, which disrupts the story momentum every time that it surfaces. It seems to be present only to give the final raid an emotional heart, though it’s intercut with the girlfriend taking part in a strange interpretive dance routine that signifies absolutely nothing.
It’s this that somewhat scuppers Entebbe and leaves the finale feeling rather unsatisfying. Padilha gets caught up in trying too hard to separate himself from other adaptations, seemingly unaware that many viewers won’t be familiar either with the real events themselves or the previous film versions. When it allows its characters to fly and its ideology to take centre stage, that’s when it becomes a gripping movie with serious thrills in its back pocket.
Pop or Poop?
There’s an enormous amount of entertaining material in Entebbe, which spends plenty of time delving into the troubled psyches of its central characters. It’s a psychological portrait of hijackers, who believe what they are doing to be a necessary evil in a wider conflict. A clunky script and some odd flourishes threaten to derail the action, but it all just about holds together as we get to the end.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.