They say truth is stranger than fiction. Without doubt, the story of the 1976 hijacking of a flight from Tel Aviv to Paris is the perfect example - an idea most would deem too brazen and dangerous to be actually attempted. With a ticking clock to add tension, a wealth of fascinating characters and a rivalry still relevant to this day, surely this tale would make for an entertaining adaptation to cinema?
In 1976, members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijack an Air France flight and force the crew to fly to Entebbe, Uganda. Joined by two West German revolutionaries, Brigitte Kuhlmann (Rosamund Pike, ‘A United Kingdom’, ‘Gone Girl’) and Wilfried Böse (Daniel Brühl, ‘Burnt’, ‘Rush’, ‘Inglourious Basterds’), the hijackers demand the release of 53 prisoners, primarily Palestinian militants. As Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi, ‘Foxtrot’, ’Footnote’) decides whether to break convention and negotiate with terrorists to ensure the safety of the 248 passengers, the Germans become concerned as the actions of the Palestinians become increasingly erratic.
These shockingly true events are far more nuanced than can be summarised in one paragraph, but ‘Entebbe’ does a good job of capturing the facts of the situation. The film balances precariously on a knife’s edge as it shows both the Israeli and Palestinian viewpoints (an aspect that will no doubt bring it a lot of criticism in the current political climate). We see the Germans’ growing sympathy towards the crew and passengers as the Palestinians’ tactics become more and more heavy-handed. We watch Rabin deliberate profusely over whether to attack or resign and negotiate. We learn about the families of those connected to the siege.
Its barrage of information is also the film’s downfall. While trying to process so much information in a short space of time, it misses many opportunities to grab a real emotional hold. The entire first and much of the second act are almost entirely void of sentiment, save a few sparse moments. The third act does create quite an impact though, with a finale that juxtaposes the climax of the story with a beautifully choreographed dance routine from the Batsheva Dance Company that shouldn’t work, but easily becomes the strongest moment of the film.
Penned by Gregory Burke (‘’71’), ‘Entebbe’ for the most part comes across as a History Channel reenactment rather than a big-name film. Besides covering too much ground, the timeline of the story jumps about frequently, without clarity of where scenes fit in the grand scheme of things. There’s also the lack of a “hero” - we see Brigitte and Böse as the main characters but we can’t really root for them because, well, they are still terrorists, even if their hearts are in the right place. This is where the balancing act between the Israeli and Palestinian stories becomes a problem - they’re both driven by motivations to do what they consider is right, but with this even-handed approach, no matter how fair, it’s a struggle to investing in what’s happening.
There are enough reasons to find interest in this film - that is, if you go in knowing to expect a drama and not an action film.
What we do at least get from this film are some interesting performances from Pike and Brühl. The further they get into the hijacking, the more they realise the seriousness and inevitability of the situation that they’re in, and watching that play out in two very different ways is quite remarkable. There’s also a small but very memorable performance from Nonso Anozie (2011’s ‘Conan the Barbarian’, 2015’s ’Cinderella’, ‘The Grey’) as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Pairing the acting with José Padilha’s (2014’s ‘RoboCop’, ‘Elite Squad’) direction full of golden yellow hues and integration of real-life footage amidst some pleasant visual flairs, and there are enough reasons to find interest in this film - that is, if you go in knowing to expect a drama and not an action film.
This isn’t the first retelling of the story of Operation Entebbe (in fact, it’s the fifth on the big and small screens), and it certainly won’t be the last - mainly because it’s a truly fascinating story. While ‘Entebbe’ aims to focus on the political tug-of-war and the minute-by-minute machinations of the event, it lacks any real connection to the people partaking on either side. Take it in for the history lesson, but stay for its thrilling finale.