7 Days in Entebbe (Movie Review + Historical Trivia)

Israel’s rescue of more than a hundred hostages at Uganda’s Entebbe airport is a classic tale of bravado and planning. Storming a building guarded by armed men is tough enough; imagine flying more than 2,300 miles below radar to do it (see Note 1).

Like many film-goers (and Mid-East affairs enthusiasts), I had my reservations about the latest movie installment (there were 3 or 4 before this) on this 1976 event, directed by José Padilha (no, I never heard of him, too).

It’s not a compliment to an action movie that the most memorable scenes involved stage-dancing, although okay the juxtaposition of those avant-garde movements with the not-so-avand-garde shooting and killing raised an eyebrow or two.

I thought Brühl and Pike gave above-par performances, though I’m curious as to why Padilha portrayed the two German ‘radicals’ as being in that conflicted space between compassion, ‘belief’ and naivety. Next to Sonny Wartzik (played by Al Pacino) in Dog Day Afternoon, Wilfried Böse appears be the most disoriented and unfit hostage-takers in film history, sprouting nonsensical crap like ‘throwing bombs into the consciousness of the masses’. The guy is like a Che Guavara fanboy who can’t wait for the teacher to praise his Semester 3 essay on Freedom & Liberation.

The two German radicals cum hijackers, Böse (R) and Kuhlmann (L).

I’ll leave the politics aside for now, except to say that I agree with the pilot’s assistant who chided Böse over his political violence and how plumbers and engineers are worth so much more than ‘revolutionaries’. Coupled with Rabin telling his team how Israel needs to allocate more money to health and education (lest they lose the point of being a country in the first place) plus that final shot of him telling Peres that Israel can’t continually refuse negotiation, and it’s clear what message Padilha wanted to convey.

And whilst I enjoyed watching the scenes involving Rabin (the Israeli PM at the time) with his defence ministers, the guy who played Shimon Peres reminded me of a stiff-ass Dracula about to devour the entire Israeli Cabinet. Incidentally, a month after Entebbe appeared, the movie Beirut came out and it too featured scenes of Israeli/Mossad negotiations and discussions (and it also starred Pike). Comparing the two films, I confess that I find it easier to believe that Beirut’s tough-as-nails Mossad people are capable of out-smarting and defeating half the Arab world, rather than the oscillating semi-wishy-washy Israeli leaders in Entebbe.

The Israeli Security Cabinet (in 1976) with PM Yitzhak Rabin (bottom right) and and Defense Minister Shimon Peres (top center). Not quite the picture of bad-ass Sabras’, IMO.

Anyway, so I went back and referred to Ian Black and Benny Morris’ Israel’s Secret Wars (New York: Grove Press, 1991), found some trivia:

  1. AF 139 first spent a night in Casablanca and then were denied permission to land in Khartoum (the movie showed the plane refueling in Libya for some reason)
  2. The threat was that should Israel not release the 52 hostages (40 Palestinians and another dozen or so European prisoners), they would blow up the plane with the passengers inside (I don’t recall any blowing-up threat in the show)
  3. The IDF, in planning the rescue op, had help from a) officials of the construction company which built Entebbe airport, b) Mossad agents in Kenya and Uganda, c) the released prisoners themselves, who were interrogated by Mossad agents in Paris and d) Bruce McKenzie, a former Kenyan cabinet minister who was then serving as a security adviser to the President of Kenya (the movie only mentioned the first)
  4. ‘Operation Thunderball’ was named after the James Bond movie (apparently), but I swear I hear Rabin say ‘Thunderbolt’ in the show
  5. One of Mossad’s worry was the Uganda MiG fighters at Entebbe; the fear was that they would shoot down the Israeli C-130 Hercules transports. All eleven of the fighters were destroyed during the raid (one of the movie’s worst failings is the drab-as-hell final rescue cum battle scene; naturally, there was no shot of the Ugandan war planes being destroyed)
  6. There were six Hercules planes used in the raid (the movie showed only four).

The IDF plan to use a black car (to fool the terrorists and Ugandan soldiers into thinking Idi Amin was visiting the airport) was real as, unfortunately, was the separation of Jews from the rest of the hostages.

The scene where Israeli passengers were separated from the other passengers (and forced to go into another room via a hole in the wall), sending unmistakable overtones of Nazi gas chambers.

And guess what? Since the Entebbe incident, no plane flying to or from Israel has been hijacked. More information here.

Note 1: After Entebbe, the IDF only engaged in one more long-range military engagement, flying about 1,500 miles to bomb the PLO’s headquarters in Tunis.

Edu-trainer, Žižek studies, amateur theologian, columnist.