Raid on Entebbe (1977)
Raid on Entebbe was one of several movies (Victory at Entebbe, Operation Thunderbolt) to be made about the rescue of the hostages from Air France Flight 139, by Israeli Commandos in 1976. The film was initially made for US television, but was considered to be of sufficient quality to be released theatrically for the international market. Competently and efficiently directed by Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back, Eyes of Laura Mars), with a solid cast of quality character actors, it offers a broadly accurate summation of the events from the initial hijacking to the raid at Entebbe airport, Uganda. It does not attempt to explore the complexities of the geo-political situation of the Middle East at the time, although it does give a brief overview of Israeli diplomacy and internal government. Raid on Entebbe is a solid linear action movie based upon what were, at the time of the production, topical events.
Raid on Entebbe exhibits a lot of the hallmarks of seventies action films. It takes a plain and straight forward approach to its action scenes which are not excessively edited. Rather than today’s fluid style of set pieces, the movie portarys events in a quasi-documentary fashion. Violence is depicted candidly without stylisation or sensationalism and there’s a clear respect for the subject matter. The cast of high profile actors does not overwhelm the story, but work in its favour, helping to guide the viewer through the ranks of Israeli Government and Military. The screenplay by Barry Beckerman is functional and without fuss. Key characters are defined, where others remain functional. Again, this lean approach works to the films benefit. Furthermore, Raid on Entebbe is not excessively politicised and doesn’t seek to hammer home any major moral or ethical points.
Although Charles Bronson is given prominent billing on the poster, he is not on screen as long as you may think. He does however put in a credible and measured performance, rather than his default tough guys persona. Martin Balsam, Jack Warden and the ubiquitous John Saxon are all up to their usual high standards, as you expect. Stephen Macht gives a sensitive and thoughtful portrayal of Yoni Netanyahu, the only Israeli military casualty from the raid. James Woods has a small role as a soldier on the assault team. But the film is stolen by Yaphet Kotto's inspired portrayal of “Field Marshall” Idi Amin, which he plays complete with all of the man’s bombastic eccentricities and underlying menace. David Shire's score is also a major asset to Raid on Entebbe, especially with his use and arrangement of traditional Hebrew hymns.
Forty years on, history takes a less romanticised view of the events in Uganda. Although, a military and more importantly a political success for the Israeli government, there were long term repercussions. The death of Dora Bloch led to the UK breaking off diplomatic relations with Uganda. Jews worldwide subsequently faced increased terrorist attacks by Pro-Palestinian forces. It will be interesting to see whether the new film, 7 Days in Entebbe, which is due for a release in March, will explore any of these wider issues. Will it be a contemporary action movie or a more cerebral revisionist depiction of a major event in a troubling era. In the meantime, if you want a functional and entertaining overview of “Operation Thunderbolt” then Raid on Entebbe can provide you with a suitable two-hour summary.