The basics of the story go like this: Israel is holding political prisoners. Palestine wants them freed. The Palestinians team up with some Germans, they take over 200 hostages (half of them Israeli Jews) and threaten to kill a few every day until the prisoners are freed. Israel stages a pretty stunning raid on the Ugandan airport where the hostages are holed up, kill the terrorists, free the hostages, and everybody goes home. That’s a great movie! Except for the part where José Padilha, the director of this completely wasted opportunity, forgot to tell me why he made this movie in the first place.
With 7 Days in Entebbe, we get a lot of talk about how the Israeli government are fascists, but on the other hand Palestine should be fighting back harder, but on the other hand, the Americans and the French should be doing more, and maybe Israel is just trying to protect its own citizens, and… well it’s all a tricky gray area. And we’re all just people. And there are heroes and villains on both sides. Huh. Interesting!
Attempting to humanize historical monsters is all well and good. But you first need to give me some indication of who the monsters are and what I’m supposed to gain from recognizing them as flawed human beings who only thought they were doing the right thing. Are they the young German revolutionaries who want to fight back against Israel’s policies? Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his cabinet who refuse to negotiate with terrorists? Idi Amin? The Palestinian Freedom Fighters? The film goes so out of its way attempting to be sympathetic and diplomatic to all sides of the situation that it eventually loses sight of what’s even going on with its own plot, leaving any loftier ambitions aside in order to focus on making the point that the whole thing is just so enormous and confusing that trying to solve it all with a single film is foolish on its face. But then… why try?
Again, the issue is perspective. We spend so much time with the German terrorists early on — getting to know them, seeing their lives — but we never get inside their heads. They’re afraid that, being Germans holding Jews hostage, some ugly comparisons might be made. Good grief, movie. Same with Rabin and his roomful of men ready to blow this whole thing sky high and get their people out of there. He’s adamant that they attempt a peaceful resolution. He says this over and over. Until he doesn’t. Why did any of this go down the way it did? Was there no way of figuring this out? Movies still have research departments, right?
I’m not even going to dive into the bizarre choice of framing the entire story around an interpretive dance recital other than to say that this is indeed something that happens and that the symbolism, while certainly not lost on me, is pretty meaningless when the rest of the film repeats it endlessly: None of this makes any sense. Besides, I think I still have my 2-tape VHS copy of Operation Thunderbolt around here somewhere. I’ll let you borrow it. Don’t give José Padilha any more of your money.