Director: José Padilha
Cast: Daniel Brühl, Rosamund Pike, Lior Ashkenazi, Mark Ivanir, Eddie Marsan, Denis Ménochet, Nonso Anozie, Kamil Lemieszewski
They say truth is often stranger than fiction. After all, in most cases there’s no smoke without fire. In the case of the 1976 hijacking of Air France Flight 139, the truth is not all that strange. Unfortunately, politically motivated hijackings, whilst still relatively rare, happen more often than we probably even know about. Entebbe is entirely based on the events of this particular hijack, from the day of the initial taking of Flight 139 (with a few flashbacks) to seven days later (the film was released with the title 7 Days in Entebbe in the U.S). More often than not, people make a trip to the cinema to see either some great work of fiction or something based on reality that is either blown to dramatic proportions or was so incredulous in its reality that it is worthy of pulling in audiences by itself. As a dramatisation of a pretty horrendous ordeal that really happened, does Entebbe do its basis, and the people involved, justice in its representation?
On 27th June 1976, Air France Flight 139 from Tel Aviv, Israel to Paris, France via Athens, Greece, was hijacked by two members of the Revolutionary Cells, a far-left German terrorist group (active between 1973 and 1995), and two Palestinian members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Their objective was to hold the passengers and crew hostage until their demands could be met: the release of 53 Palestinian and pro-Palestinian militants and $5million. After the stop-off in Athens, the flight was diverted to Entebbe, Uganda, where the hostages were held for seven days in cramped conditions (the Ugandan government also supported the Palestinians). After two days, all non-Israelis and non-Jews (not including the flight crew) were released. Israel, refusing to give in to the Palestinians’ demands, enacted Operation Entebbe, in which their armed forces went in and liberated the hostages.
If that seems like a relatively illusive way to end the above paragraph, that’s because it is essentially the way the film ends (other than subtitled brief explanations as to what came next for the survivors). To be perfectly honest, most of the above description came from research (mostly via Wikipedia) on the subject. Padilha’s film itself, in its plot, dialogue and characters, is often so muddled it becomes hard to follow. To confuse your audience, when such dense political reasoning for the hijackers’ actions are supposed to be at the core of the story, is fatal cause for losing an audience early on. It’s one of those movies that loses its grasp on the viewer’s attention so easily and so often that you may find yourself zoning out quite a bit, which is a shame, as on reading up on the actual events there is so much more there that could have been worked in, i.e. the political standing of Kenya and the effect it had upon its relationship with Uganda. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict in itself is a muddled and longstanding affair (but here’s a really great YouTube video that explains it all very well), so to create a film that is in such disarray does a great disservice to the real struggle. On the other hand, perhaps the film unintentionally does the opposite. It creates such a confusion as to what is going on that it may encourage audiences to research what actually happened, in which case it brings further light to the situation. Though that was likely not the film’s overall intent: all it wanted to do was enlighten people on a particular event in the history of the hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians. So, in this case, the true potential of the film was missed.
It seems that Daniel Brühl is popping up in many things at the moment. Being an actor-of-the-moment and a native German, the role of one of the German “revolutionaries”, Wilfried Böse, seemed fitting for him. Brühl does an exceptional job at creating a character that really has nowhere to go, both literally and figuratively. He endears audiences to his character, being one of probably only two characters that are able to do such a thing. The other is Denis Ménochet as the flight’s captain Jacques Le Moine. Le Moine tries to keep communication with Böse open and is dedicated to keeping his passengers safe, as is his creed as captain. In doing so, through his minimal scenes and dialogue, he almost steals the entire film. This is part of what makes the film feel so all over the place: are we seeing the view point of the hostages or the hijackers? Are we supposed to be neutral throughout or picking a side? Is this a political drama or an emotional account of the human side of events? Brühl and Ménochet are the saving graces of what otherwise would have been a disasterous film. Even Rosamund Pike, a fantastic actress, couldn’t reach the levels of performance we’re used to seeing from her. Pike’s character, Brigitte Kuhlmann, the other German “revolutionary”, is drab, unconvincing and at times over the top. If her name is ever actually mentioned in the film, it’s easily missed. None of this is Pike’s fault: the character just wasn’t written for her to play. If it weren’t for Kuhlmann being present in the real hijacking, she could easily have been lifted out of the film. Perhaps the role would have helped a lesser known actress to get her name further into the mainstream, but the role seemed subpar for Pike. Other supporting characters seemed fairly random (Zina Zinchenko’s Sarah) or bland (Marsan’s Shimon Peres and the rest of the politicians involved in the majority of his scenes). The use of interpretive dance is also rather haphazard (it’s fine if you have time to sit and think about it, but in a film that throws so much at you and expects you to understand, it’s just another thing that we’re expected to get, and it just begs more unanswered questions).
It’s always important to keep certain events in our history alive, lest we forget and history repeats itself (as is still prone to happening, unfortunately). But it needs to be done in the right way and for the right reasons. Entebbe has the right reasons and the filmmakers’ hearts were in the right place, but in the end the execution was far from what is generally expected of cinematic representations of true events, especially when they are as politically charged and full of history as this. You may come away with the feeling that the filmmakers want us to keep a neutral view, and that’s probably fair, however they don’t make it easy by trying to get us to emotionally invest in almost every aspect. Perhaps there was too much personal view in there from the writers, maybe there wasn’t enough from the director. Whatever the reason, Entebbe doesn’t hit the mark where it should have.