The day begins like any other. Veteran pilot Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) sits down in the cockpit of a plane flying out of Berlin without a care in the world. He runs through the flight checklist, makes cute conversation with his girlfriend Gökce (Aylin Tezel) —a flight attendant on the plane—and before long, he is off in the air. That is, until an unexpected hijacking turns his routine into a nightmare. As Islamic extremists brandish broken bits of glass and corral the passengers, Tobias finds himself in an inescapable situation that threatens to take the lives of everyone on board.

Cinema tends to revisit terrifying stories that unfold on planes every several years. In 2005, “Flightplan” and “Red Eye” took to the skies. In 2006, Samuel L. Jackson battled venomous serpents in “Snakes on a Plane,” while “United 93” forced audiences to relive the terror of the 9/11 attacks that same year. Beyond the aforementioned summation, “7500” requires no further introduction. Patrick Vollrath’s first feature moves fast, wastes no time, and offers thrills uncharacteristic of its contemporaries.

Conversely, what Vollrath presents with “7500” is a film designed to be actively endured, not passively enjoyed. Vollrath’s real-time debut restrains its embellishments and capitalizes on its minimalistic qualities, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere that thrives on unexpected twists and unforeseen heartbreak. The execution of the film’s gimmick—confining the audience to the cockpit for the entirety of its 92-minute runtime—eschews any trickery and relies solely on the remarkable capabilities of Gordon-Levitt, who delivers a career-defining performance.

Remarkably, the elements that distinguish Gordon-Levitt’s performance nearly pass by unnoticed, due to the actor’s artful ability to exploit the inescapable realism that “7500” presents. You lose sight of Gordon-Levitt once the plane leaves the ground and chaos explodes onboard. In his place, you are gifted with a front-row seat to the gradual, tragic decay of a mild-mannered man forced to be the hero in a no-win situation. Notably, alongside Gordon-Levitt stands Omid Memar, the young actor who portrays Vedat, the youngest hijacker. Impressively, Vedat goes toe-to-toe with Gordon-Levitt throughout the film, almost matching his intensity, and although the Hollywood champion triumphs as the standout, Memar proves himself to be a talent to keep an eye on.

Similarly, Vollrath marks himself as a visionary who should have a long career moving forward. The filmmaker—together with his assortment of on-screen and behind-the-camera collaborators—crafts an unremittingly bleak thriller that breezes by in a blink, but still finds time to dive into themes of authority and subvert the tropes of heroism in movies comparable to “7500.” Nothing extraordinary occurs within the confines of this suffocating cockpit, but the film is lean, cynical, and unforgiving. Every instance of cheer-inducing heroism or unforeseen twist, on the whole, earns its place.

Granted, “7500” comes equipped with its share of specs that need adjusting. Even at a crisp 92 minutes, the film finds time to lounge too long in the silence, and its brooding undercurrent of anxiety occasionally lapses into boredom due to its real-time framework. Thus, the film’s emphasis on realism qualifies as its exceptional achievement and singular fault. As a result, “7500” is a movie that could have found its wings had it managed to stretch its succinct, minimalist envelope to the breaking point. In its place, Vollrath opts for the safe route, but the thriller succeeds despite its setbacks.

In an era marked by omnipresent terror and universal doom, “7500” sparks fear and soothes anxiety in the same breath. Although the film utilizes violence as its foundation, “7500” promotes the idea that heroes exist everywhere, proving that, even amid turbulent opposition, survival, and endurance are sometimes the bravest acts people can ever accomplish. [B+]

“7500” is available now on Amazon Prime Video.