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'7 Days in Entebbe' is a gripping true-life political thriller

'7 Days in Entebbe' is a gripping true-life political thriller
Rosamund Pike and Daniel Brühl in the movie "7 Days in Entebbe." (Liam Daniel / Focus Features)

The gripping political thriller "7 Days in Entebbe" — based on true events and directed by Brazilian filmmaker José Padilha — opens surprisingly with a modern dance performance. It's a captivating choice that serves as an unlikely thematic throughline of the film about a high-stakes high-wire act of negotiation and military maneuvers between Israelis and Palestinians in the 1970s.

Performed by the Batsheva Dance Company, choreographed by Ohad Naharin, the dancers flail and stumble out of chairs, dressed in suits, and rip their clothes off in a rhythmic, repetitive ritual. The dance has a place in the narrative, as one of the dancers (Zina Zinchenko) is the girlfriend of an Israeli special forces soldier (Ben Schnetzer), but it has a larger place in the film emotionally and symbolically. It represents a sense of anxiety and chaos, a mob mentality. As dancers wrestle with chairs and clothes in unison, one dancer falls, again and again. She can't — or won't — get in formation with the group.

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Written by Geoffrey Burke, "7 Days in Entebbe" recounts the tale of a real plane hijacking that looms large in the history of Israel. In June 1976, two German and two Palestinian revolutionaries — the nomenclature varies from "freedom fighter" to "terrorist" depending on which side you're on — hijacked an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris and directed it to Entebbe, Uganda, to demand the release of 52 political prisoners.

The smart script weaves together the happenings at the terminal in Uganda, emceed by an ebullient Idi Amin (Nonso Anozie), just happy for the media exposure, as well as the political distress in Jerusalem as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi) struggles for power with Defense Minister Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan). But much of the story focuses on the morally complex situation of the two Germans, Brigitte Kuhlmann (Rosamund Pike) and Wilfried Böse (Daniel Brühl).

For these young European revolutionaries, the event is where the rubber meets the road — where rhetoric becomes action, which is often grimy, complicated and disturbing. Racked by guilt, Böse proclaims, "I'm not a Nazi!" but then again, he's a German, hijacking Jews. His counterpart, Brigitte, is much tougher, chomping speed pills and unafraid to use violence to make her hostages fall in line. Pike is haunting in her performance, her Brigitte both faraway and ferocious.

A climactic moment intercuts a special forces military operation led by Yonatan Netanyahu (Angel Bonanni), older brother of future prime minister Benjamin, with the pulse-pounding dance of the opening. With so many moving parts and unpredictable forces, the entire hostage crisis is a dance, with all the pieces needing to come together perfectly for anyone to prevail. It's a delicate balance of choreography and chaos, of ideas and action.

The story is larger than life. Padilha brings a frenetic, authentic style and flair to this depiction and never loses sight of its larger messages and themes. As Rabin, Ashkenazi drives home the point that without negotiation, there will always be war. It's poignant and powerful to consider the ways in which negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians reverberated throughout the lives and careers of Rabin and Peres, along with the centuries of conflict in the Middle East. The film never lets us forget that legacy.

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‘7 Days in Entebbe'

Rating: PG-13, for violence, some thematic material, drug use, smoking and brief strong language

Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes.

Playing: In general release

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