Entebbe movie review: Hijack tale based on 1970s terrorist siege is just plane boring
In the 1970s, plane hijackings were all the rage. Every other week, some wing-nut would board a jet and wave a semi-automatic about and demand to be flown to Cuba. Some were resolved peacefully, others turned into runway bloodbaths, but none ended as memorably as the seizing of Air France Flight 139. It was en route from Tel Aviv to Paris on June 27, 1976, when it stopped in Athens to pick up more passengers. Among them were four hijackers, who diverted the plane to Entebbe Airport in central Uganda.
There, the 300 passengers and 12 crew would endure a dreadful waiting game as Palestinian terrorists negotiated angrily with the Israeli authorities while Uganda's ruler, Idi Amin, attempted to interpose himself into a situation that had become a huge news story across the globe.
It was resolved with chilling efficiency by Israeli armed forces, but only after a long debate between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his gung-ho Foreign Affairs Minister Shimon Peres.
All of this is dramatised by Jose Padilha's thriller Entebbe, and on paper it sounds like a wonderfully cinematic story. Because apart from the Israeli-Palestinian dimension and the surreal contributions of Idi Amin, there's the fact that two of the terrorists were members of the German Revolutionary Cells.
Daniel Bruhl and Rosamund Pike play Wilfried Bose and Brigitte Kuhlmann, left-wing radicals who'd carried out a series of bomb attacks in West Germany designed to destabilise their country's supposed fascist regime.
Their decision to help members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine to hijack a plane full of Israelis may have been vaguely high-minded, but in Entebbe at least, Bose begins to regret it once the plane touches down in Uganda.
Almost immediately, the Palestinian terrorists begin separating the Jews from the other passengers and herding them into an adjoining room. To the Germans, this has uncomfortable connotations, and Bose and Kuhlmann begin to realise that the terrorists' demands for $5m and the release of 53 imprisoned comrades are unlikely to be met. "The Israelis don't negotiate," Bose mutters, and meanwhile the Palestinians promise to start killing passengers. The scene is set for a bloody mess.
In Tel Aviv, however, Prime Minister Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi) is seriously considering doing a deal with the terrorists. But not if Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan) can help it - he wants to show the world that Israel is no pushover, and is secretly planning a commando raid in conjunction with the military. His view will win out in the end, leading to one of the most audacious counter-terrorist actions in history.
This is not the first time that Operation Entebbe has been dramatised. In fact, within a year of the incident no less than three hack films had been made lionising the exploits of the Israeli commandos.
This film, in fairness, is more nuanced: we're given intermittent hints that the Palestinians may have good cause to resort to such desperate actions, and Bose is presented as the Hamlet of the piece, a wavering man of action who insists to one captive that he is not a Nazi and faces a dilemma when it comes to shooting the prisoners.
Rabin believed in a negotiated two-state solution and would later be assassinated by an Israeli hard-liner for his troubles: the ideological conflict between he and Peres is extensively, though rather stodgily, dramatised in the film and represents a bitter national debate that's still going on in Israel today.
Entebbe is worthy then, but also strangely boring and tension-free. Someone thought it would be a good idea to make one of the commandos' girlfriends a dancer, providing a flimsy pretext for a deeply irritating interpretive dance sequence that punctuates the rescue mission.
That all-action ending is thrown away in a matter of minutes by a film that spends 100 minutes building to a climax that never happens, and makes a hash of telling a great story.
Entebbe (12A, 107mins) - 2 stars
Also out this week: Movie reviews: Life of the Party, Redoubtable, Breaking In, How to Talk to Girls at Parties
Films coming soon...
Deadpool 2 (Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin); Citizen Lane (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Derbhle Crotty, Barry McGovern); Filmworker (Leon Vitali, Danny Lloyd, Ryan O'Neal); Jeune Femme (Laetitia Dosch).