Thu, 31 May 2018
Running time 1hr 47mins
THOUGH the infamous Entebbe hostage crisis has been endlessly rehashed for the silver screen, it still appears to me that there’s a worthwhile film waiting to be made of it (a pair of ’70s flicks centred on the affair have become staples of Sunday afternoon television, oft-repeated, rarely remembered). Indeed, Steven Spielberg’s Munich and Ben Affleck’s Argo have shown it’s eminently possible to temper your true-life thriller with a little brain and still have it return respectable bucks at the box office. This new version of the story is, to say the least, clunky – not nearly as clunky as previous tellings, sure, but it’s so indulgent and unfocused as to rob its hard-hitting subject of all bite and relevance.
There’s a reason the Entebbe standoff invites revisitation, and that’s because, in real life, the actual shootout lasted less than five minutes – like any movie about 9/11, the point is always less the action itself than the human drama unfolding around it, the stuff that didn’t make it onto the Nine O’clock News.
In 1976, Palestinian militants hijacked an Israeli jet and flew the hostages into Entebbe Airport, Uganda, where (famously unhinged) despot Idi Amin offered the captors sanctuary. It would be crass to dub the ensuing rescue op – orchestrated by none other than Benjamin Netanyahu’s brother – something straight out of a Tom Clancy novel, but that’s just what it was (and more), with Israeli commandos rescuing 102 out of the 106 captives. As you’d expect, the final sweep, which saw the terrorists and their allies picked off like sitting ducks, only takes up a small stretch of this new film; that’s refreshing (an unfaithful treatment would have distracted from more pressing concerns), but it otherwise messes up a staggering opportunity to do something new with old material. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t try. As you’d expect, Entebbe presents the audience with two threads – the Israeli interlude, which finds Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (played by Lior Ashkenazi) and gung-ho defence minister Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan, in a bizarre turn) at loggerheads over a solution to the crisis; and the film’s showpiece, depicting the nail-shredding drama on the ground in Uganda. The latter side-lines the Palestinians in favour of a pair of German cohorts (Daniel Brühl and Rosamund Pike) whose revolutionary aspirations are quickly dealt a blow by the dismal realities of the situation. The figure of the out-of-depth radical has entered the annals of cinema as something of a turgid cliché, and Entebbe doesn’t make a plausible case for it – as far as I’m concerned, 2008’s German-language Baader-Meinhof Complex is fairly unbeatable in its interrogation of this tragic archetype. The couple’s Holocaust guilt jars with the bloody intentions of the less idealistic Palestinians, who have no such qualms about shooting a planeload of Jews.
On paper, it’s a recipe for real grit and tension, but the film mightily cocks it up, racing towards a ‘safe’ conclusion that finds the Germans to be nothing more than a pair of weekend Bolsheviks taken for a ride by dodgy Arab caricatures. Pike and Brühl are fine, though.
The Israeli segment offers quite a bit more in the way of thrills and compelling dialogue, but it’s also, of course, ‘the half that’s already been told’. We’ve yet to see a screen version of Idi Amin that’s anything short of giddily demented and Nonso Anozie is clearly having great fun playing one of history’s great supervillains. But Entebbe lacks the sense of urgency, dynamism and suspense its subject demands – it’s almost as if Hollywood’s destined to give us nothing but crude, mediocre iterations of this story.