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‘7 Days in Entebbe’ fumbles the finish

Wilfried Bose (Daniel Bruhl) and Brigitte Kuhlmann (Rosamund Pike) in “7 Days in Entebbe,” a docudrama about the 1976 hijacking of an Air France flight ultimately grounded in Entebbe, Uganda.
Wilfried Bose (Daniel Bruhl) and Brigitte Kuhlmann (Rosamund Pike) in “7 Days in Entebbe,” a docudrama about the 1976 hijacking of an Air France flight ultimately grounded in Entebbe, Uganda. Focus Features

Movies go bad in all kinds of ways, but in “7 Days in Entebbe” the filmmakers found a brand new way for their movie to commit suicide. It happens, remarkably, in the movie’s last 10 minutes, in a jaw-dropping flame-out unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed.

Until then, “7 Days in Entebbe” is a tense and gripping historical thriller, recreating the terrorist hijacking of an Air France airliner in 1976 and the hostage drama that followed. As anyone who buys a ticket to this movie will know, the drama culminated in a stunning rescue operation by Israeli commandos. So this is not a movie that people watch while wondering how it will turn out. This is a movie people watch while knowing how it will turn out and looking forward to seeing it

Indeed, a full half of the experience of “7 Days in Entebbe” is anticipating the big finish. But the big finish we get is ridiculous. Yes, the movie depicts the rescue operation, but it does so in a sparing way, just a few glimpses here and there. And it inter-cuts the rescue scene – this is amazing – with a modern dance performance. So it’s a few seconds of gun shots, and a few seconds of dancing to noisy percussive music, back and forth, back and forth, until you want to find director Jose Padilha, sit him down in a chair and yell “Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?” over and over until the movie is finished.

Apparently, at least according to this, one of the soldiers, Yoni Netanyahu, brother of the future president, had a girlfriend in a modern dance troupe. And for some reason, either Padilha or the screenwriters or both thought it would be a nifty idea to show her performing while the raid takes place: Somebody gets shot in Entebbe, and someone onstage falls down. That kind of thing. And give the filmmakers credit, they had an idea for something no one had ever done before. What they didn’t realize is that there was a reason for this: The idea was horrible.

Yet until them, “7 Days in Entebbe” is a credible and arresting slice of history. The Air France jumbo jet, bound for Tel Aviv, is hijacked by German terrorists with ties to the Red Army Faction. They want to make a statement on behalf of the Palestinians, and their idea is that the Israeli government will release the terrorists in its prisons in exchange for the hostages. As portrayed here, Wilfried Bose (Daniel Bruhl) is a misguided zealot, but not a murderer, while Brigitte Kuhlmann (Rosamund Pike) is a more enigmatic figure, by turns empathetic and fanatical — and increasingly strung out on amphetamines as the crisis plays out.

The terrorists had the idea that it would be much harder for the Israelis to use force if the hostages were held outside Israel, particularly in a strange, unaligned country such as Idi Amin’s Uganda. Nonso Anozie appears several times in the film as Amin, and he’s fascinating to watch and lots of fun — a genial monster who wants to be loved.

The movie follows the crisis over its seven days, with several brief flashbacks to fill in the details. Just as dramatic as the scenes in Uganda are the deliberations within the Israeli cabinet, with the main clash coming between president Yitzhak Rabin — a forthright former soldier, as played by Lior Ashkenazi — and Simon Peres (Eddie Marsan), a wily politician. Peres wants to attempt a rescue, and Rabin, who ultimately must make the decision, is less sure.

Yet remembering everything good about “7 Days in Entebbe” is a little like remembering the first act of “Our American Cousin.” Yes, it was going well, but in light of subsequent events, it doesn’t much matter. Imagine if Kathryn Bigelow in “Zero Dark Thirty” had decided that what the Bin Laden raid really needed was some Irish step dancing. So first the Navy SEALS jump out of the helicopter and next we see the chorus line in “Riverdance.” Might have worked, right?

No. Not right at all.

7 Days in Entebbe

Rated: PG-13 for violence, some thematic material, drug use, smoking, brief strong language. Starring: Rosamund Pike, Daniel Bruhl, Lior Ashkenazi. Director: Jose Padilha. Running time: 107 minutes. Theaters: Edwards 21, Edwards 14, Majestic 18.

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