On June 27th, 1976, four terrorists hijacked an Air France flight and diverted it to Entebbe Airport in Uganda. With the blessing of dictator Idi Amin and with the help of a deployment of Ugandan soldiers, the terrorists held all of the Israeli passengers hostage while allowing the non-Jewish passengers to leave. The terrorists issued the usual set of demands. The Israelis responded with Operation Thunderbolt, a daring July 4th raid on the airport that led to death of all the terrorists and the rescue of the hostages. Three hostages were killed in the firefight and a fourth — Dora Bloch — was subsequently murdered in a Ugandan hospital by Idi Amin’s secret police. Only one commando — Yonatan Netanyahu — was lost during the raid. His younger brother, Benjamin, would later become Prime Minister of Israel.
Raid on Entebbe, a docudrama about the operation, was originally produced for NBC though it subsequently received an overseas theatrical release as well. It’s an exciting tribute to the bravery of both the hostages and the commandos who rescued them. Director Irvin Kershner directs in a documentary fashion and gets good performances from a cast full of familiar faces. Charles Bronson, James Woods, Peter Finch, Martin Balsam, Stephen Macht, Horst Buchholz, Sylvia Sidney, Allan Arbus, Jack Warden, John Saxon, and Robert Loggia show up as politicians, commandos, terrorists, and hostages and all of them bring a sense of reality and humanity to their roles.
The film’s best performance comes from Yaphet Kotto, who plays Idi Amin as a strutting buffoon, quick to smile but always watching out for himself. In the film, Amin often pays unannounced visits to the airport, where he lies and tells the hostages that he is doing his best to broker an agreement between the terrorists and Israel. The hostages are forced to applaud Amin’s empty promises and Amin soaks it all up with a huge grin on his face. Forest Whitaker may have won the Oscar for Last King of Scotland but, for me, Yaphet Kotto will always be the definitive Idi Amin.