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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



7 Days in Entebbe/Entebbe, Review: Week plot

7 Days in Entebbe/Entebbe, Review: Week plot

In the cast are the President of Uganda and Prime Minister of Israel, Defence Minister of Israel as well as several Israeli Prime Ministers-to-be. The plot consists of the most daring rescue operation, called Thunderbolt, violating the international border of a friendly country, aerospace as well as land trespass. Indeed, some might even say that it was the Israelis who taught the Western powers how to attack the enemy by air and on land, wherever they might be, on whichever country. Yet, sadly, this 2018 docu-drama of a 1976 real life incident, which had the potential of high voltage fireworks, lacks spunk and fizzles out before it could have you breaking in a sweat. Performances range from good to very good, and there are some deft directorial touches. Nevertheless, somewhere, something is missing, and the film is certainly no thunderbolt.

7 Days in Entebbe is the fourth film on Operation Entebbe, after the American TV films Victory at Entebbe (1976) and Raid on Entebbe (1977), the Israeli feature film, Operation Thunderbolt (1977) and the TV documentary, Operation Thunderbolt: Entebbe (2000). The last one contained interviews with former hostages, including Captain Bacos, who, along with 11 other members of the crew, refused to abandon his passengers, as well those who planned the rescue mission and those executed it. 7 Days in Entebbe comes a full 18 years after the last on the list above. Not having seen those four, there is no yardstick to compare. The facts of the matter, i.e. the plot, however, necessarily, remain the same.

In 1976, two Palestinian (Faiz Jeber, Ali-Almaati; members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) and two German (Brigitte Kuhlmann, Wilfried Bose; members of the Bader-Meinhof gang) terrorists hijacked Air France Flight 139, en route from Tel Aviv, Israel, to Paris, France via Athens, Greece, where they stopped and refuelled. The Operation was masterminded by Palestinian Wadie Haddad. They held the passengers and crew hostage at Entebbe, Uganda, and demanded a ransom of $5 million for the airplane, and the release of 53 Palestinian and pro-Palestinian militants, 40 of whom were prisoners in Israel.

Idi Amin Dada (Nonso Anozie), Uganda’s eccentric, flamboyant and ruthless dictator President, who, just two days earlier, had been declared ‘president for life’ by the Ugandan Parliament, wanted to bask in the glory of brokering the hostage release deal. When all diplomatic efforts failed, the Israeli government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin approved a counter-terrorist hostage rescue operation by Israel Defence Force (IDF) commandos, propounded by Shimon Peres, the Defence Minister. It was called Operation Thunderbolt. Seven days after captivity, all but two of the hostages were freed. Israel lost only one soldier.

Gregory Burke (’71)’s screenplay is well balanced, except for delineating the motivation of the hijackers, who come across as spineless and inept. There is some sketchy back-story about Brigitte Kuhlmann and her lover, Juan Carlos, and passing mention of Ulrike Meinhof, of the Baader-Meinhof German Red Army gang, whose death is reported in the newspapers, and for which Brigitte blames herself, halfway into the hijacking. Burke runs a parallel story about a soldier and his beloved, Sarah, who is a modern ballet dancer. His commander wants the soldier to choose between having a girl friend and serving in the army, and the girl’s serious concern about his safety. This track allows the writer to weave in a parallel cutting climax, counterpoising rigorous dance steps with a military operation. Idi Amin supervising the release of hostages by putting them in a bus is a well-nuanced scene, especially when the nun refuses to leave. Burke also treats us with a touching scene, wherein Brigitte makes a call to Juan Pablo, although the... spoiler alert!!

Brazilian-Portuguese director José Padilha (RoboCop, Rio--I Love You; Narcos) has problems constructing the Entebbe locale, while he succeeds in recreating the Israel cabinet meetings and war-room with élan. Uganda’s, and obviously Idi Amin’s, role in the entire exercise comes across as half-baked. What would you say about the IQ of hijackers who release dozens of hostages and leave themselves open to the consequences of intelligence they provide to French and Israeli authorities? These include a woman who claims a fake two-month pregnancy and is released merely because one hijacker feels she would not lie about such a thing. At the first opportunity, she spills the beans. Out for martyrdom were these desperadoes! 7 Days at Entebbe suggests that the narration will be from the hijackers/hostages’ point of view.

There is very little that is imparted by the hostages, while a large part of the action takes place far away from Entebbe. At 106 minutes, it is not a very long film, but the proceedings do get boring at the terminal, where the hijackers interact between themselves and the hostages play a wait and watch game. Some of the text before the end credits updates us about the fates suffered by Yonatan Netanyahu, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, and that is fine. What could have added to the interest would have been the follow-up on what happened in Entebbe and Uganda after the plane flew off.

Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day, Johnny English Reborn, Jack Reacher) has large, expressive eyes and a slim body. But her performance is nothing to shout about. Daniel Brühl (Rush, Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther) looks German, with help from his half German blood. Most of the time, he looks lost and confused. Eddie Marsan (Gangs of New York, Mission Impossible III, Sherlock Holmes) is the mainstay of the cast: so steely, so sinister, so cool. Lior Ashkenazi (born to Sephardi Jewish immigrants from Turkey, who moved to Israel in 1964; Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, Foxtrot) is the emotional peacenik, well essayed. Ben Schnetzer (Snowden, The Journey is The Destination, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan) plays the young soldier who does not want to give up his girl, though he has very little time for her. He and Zina Zinchenko (probably her debut) make a comely pair.

Nonso Anozie (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Cinderella, Pan) shows none of the crazy traits attributed to Amin, but remember, it was still early days for the Dictator. Peter Sullivan (The Limehouse Golem, The Face of an Angel, mainly TV; idolises James Dean) is the senior who admonishes lover boy, and does reasonably well. Denis Ménochet (French; Assassin's Creed, Custody) as an engineering crew member who, along with his whole team, stays back as part of their duty has just the right expressions. Angel Bonanni (Kfulim, Shots Fired, Absentia) is cast as Yonatan (Yoni) Netanyahu, the brother of Benjamin Netanyahu, who would be the Israeli PM some years later. Omar Berdouni is cast in the role of Faiz Jeber, a terrorist. Others in the cast are Mark Ivanir, Kamil Lemieszewski, Brontis Jodorowsky and Natalie Stone and Samy Seghir. Special mention must be made of the The Batsheva Dance Company, which presents a scintillating number.

In summary, Entebbe may not be the ideal destination for war/terrorism film-lovers. It has its moments and historical significance. Persons in their 20s-40s might get a good glimpse into Israel’s chequered past. Ironically, it is this age bracket that might find it the plot weak, slow and not engaging enough.

Rating: **


Operation Thunderbolt by Saul David

On June 27, 1976, an Air France plane took off from Ben-Gurion International Airport in Lod, Israel, heading for Paris with a stop-over in Athens, carrying 228 passengers of Israeli, French and various other nationalities. Security at the Lod airport was famously tight — but in Athens, where security was lax, four hijackers boarded the Airbus carrying large black bags that held guns and hand grenades, took over the plane and forced the pilot to divert to Entebbe Airport, on the shore of Lake Victoria, in Uganda. Six days later, a team of Israeli Special Forces personnel attacked the airport in a daring and ingenious raid, named Operation Thunderbolt, and freed the hostages.

The hijackers were led by two German left-wing terrorists, a man and a woman with connections to the Baader-Meinhof gang, supported by two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. They were opposed, and ultimately defeated, by the leading political and military personalities of Israel. Some 40 years later, many of the names associated with the hijacking are still remembered: the Palestinian terrorist Wadie Haddad and the Israelis Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak and Menachem Begin (with a brief appearance by Moshe Dayan). The leader of the raid, killed in combat at the airport, was Yoni Netanyahu, the brother of the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. In some ways at the center of the narrative is

From the Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) website

At 11 p.m. July 3, 1976, Operation Thunderbolt commenced, and over 100 Israeli commandos in four C-130s flew into Entebbe, under the cover of darkness. The assault team consisted of 29 Sayeret Mat’ Kal commandos, the Israeli equivalent of Delta Force. They were dressed like Ugandan troops and had their faces painted black to blend in and were equipped with AKMs, suppressed UZIs and suppressed pistols. They had acquired a black Mercedes that looked like President Idi Amin’s vehicle, and several Land Rovers, which were the vehicles that usually accompanied Amin’s black Mercedes.

The plan was to bypass several security checkpoints, using the disguise. However, unbeknownst to them, Amin had recently purchased a white Mercedes, and the suspicious Ugandan sentries ordered the vehicles to stop. The commandos shot the sentries using silenced pistols, but did not kill them. As they pulled away, an Israeli commando in a following Land Rover feared the injured sentries would alert the hijackers and finished them off with an unsuppressed rifle.

Having lost the element of surprise due to the gunfire, the assault team sped toward the terminal, burst out of their vehicles and rushed inside. Using a megaphone, the commando’s identified themselves and ordered the hostages to stay down in English and Hebrew. The assault team made quick work of the few terrorists that were guarding the hostages. “Where are the rest of them,” the commando’s asked the hostages, referring to the terrorists. The hostages pointed to a door that led to the main hall, into which the commandos threw several grenades, then entered the room and shot the remaining three terrorists with swift, unforgiving efficiency.

Meanwhile, outside of the terminal, the main Israeli force set up blocking positions at all entrances of the airport and killed off around 45 Ugandan troops that had come to reinforce the terrorists. The Israeli’s also destroyed, using satchel charges, 30 MiG-17s and MiG 21s of the Ugandan Air Force, so that the Israeli C-130’s could fly the hostages home safely, without worry of being shot down.

Out of the 106 hostages, only three were killed and around 10 were wounded. The hostages were flown to safety in Nairobi, Kenya and the mission was declared a success.

(Yonatan "Yoni" was an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officer who commanded the elite commando unit Sayeret Matkal during Operation Entebbe, an operation to rescue hostages held at Entebbe Airport in Uganda in 1976. The mission was successful, with 102 of the 106 hostages rescued, but Netanyahu was killed in action—the only IDF fatality during the operation).

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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