‘Entebbe’: Uncertain film on the Israeli-Palestine conflict will please no-one

Review: It’s hard to see who the film is for – bring back ‘Delta Force’: never mind the dire implications, we know where we stand with Chuck Norris

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Director: José Padilha
Cert: 12A
Genre: History
Starring: Rosamund Pike, Daniel Brühl, Eddie Marsan, Ben Schnetzer, Lior Ashkenazi, Denis Ménochet, Nonso Anozie
Running Time: 1 hr 47 mins

In 1976, an Air France airplane carrying 250 passengers to Paris from Tel Aviv was hijacked by terrorists. The risky Israeli mission to rescue them, known as Operation Entebbe or Operation Thunderbolt, was quickly adapted for the screen in Victory at Entebbe (1976), Operation Thunderbolt (1977), and Raid on Entebbe (1977).

It was subsequently depicted in Chuck Norris actioner The Delta Force (1986), The Last King of Scotland (2008) and the incoming PBS documentary, Cojot: A Second Chance Comes Only Once.

Unlike these cinematic predecessors, Entebbe –formerly named Seven Days in Entebbe – is an uncertain venture.

Having scored successes with the undeniably thrilling celebrations of jackbootery Elite Squad and Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, Brazilian director José Padilha's Entebbe (perhaps surprisingly) works awfully hard to be less gung-ho than other filmmakers. There are deep and meaningful exchanges between Daniel Bruhl's nervy, compromised Wilfried Böse, a member of the Revolutionary Cells, and Denis Ménochet's pragmatic flight engineer about the PR implications of Germans executing Jewish hostages. Rosamund Pike plays fellow-hijacker Brigitte Kuhlman as vulnerable, dazed and idealistic.


These attempts to humanise the perpetrators – the expression on Bruhl’s face when he encounters a concentration camp tattoo, Pike’s forlorn last phone-call home – are counterpointed by the tense, thrilling negotiations between prime minister Yitzhak Rabin (the charismatic Lior Ashkenazi) and the hawkish defence minister Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan).

This uneasy attempt at balance and humanising won’t please anyone who has an opinion on either side of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. But nuance is but one of several ideas that doesn’t quite work here. The side-lining of the hostages reduces them, with fantastic inappropriateness, to numbers.

A staging of Batsheva Dance Company's performance of Ohad Naharin's Echad Mi Yodea, a wonderful spectacle that the director keeps returning to, building to the fast cross-cuts of the climatic final sequence, feels odd for all of editor Daniel Rezende's expertise.

There are bright spots, nonetheless, at least for apolitical viewers. The war-room negotiations are tautly realised. Bruhl and Pike are excellent, as ever, Nonso Anozie’s appropriately itchy depiction of Ugandan President Idi Amin is a remarkable thing: his reassurances invariably sound like threats; his glowering can suddenly implode into beaming benevolence.

The use of archival material – so often a tiresome trope in contemporary cinema – is expertly judged.

Still, it's hard to see who the film is for. Bring back Delta Force: never mind the dire implications: we know where we stand with Chuck Norris.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic