2018, R, 143 min. Directed by Paul Greengrass. Starring Anders Danielsen Lie, Jonas Strand Gravli, Jon Øigarden, Isak Bakli Aglen, Maria Bock, Thorbjørn Harr, Seda Witt.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 5, 2018
July 22, 2011 is the day in history that Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 citizens in dual attacks. A car bomb outside the offices of the prime minister and Ministry of Justice in Oslo blew up and killed eight people while Breivik was on his way to a summer camp run by the Labor Party on nearby Utøya Island, where he murdered another 69 people, most of them teenagers. This film (which opens simultaneously on Netflix and with a limited theatrical run) is not so much about the attacks themselves as it is about their aftermath. How Norway, the victims and their families, government officials, and the legal system dealt with the consequences of the massacres is what under examination here.
The film is directed by Paul Greengrass, who has an unsurpassed ability to meld current events with skillful action filmmaking. Terrorist attacks have provided the material for such recent films of his as Captain Phillips and United 93. However, 22 Julyis the least successful of Greengrass’ ventures in this realm. The numerous characters presented in the film probably dilute its overall dramatic power. Few of the story strands reveal facts about the incident that weren’t previously known, and the emotions undergone by the victims and observers are generally predictable and unsurprising. Choosing also to have the characters speak in Norwegian-accented English doesn’t help the film’s overall performances or add to its sense of authenticity.
Constantly cross-cutting among the various storylines works best in the opening half hour of the film, during which the harrowing terror attacks are re-created. It also manages to get the most upsetting part of this drama out of the way so that we can more closely focus on the aftermath: Breivik’s arrest and struggle to turn his trial into a showcase for his anti-Marxist, anti-immigration cause, the anguish of his lawyer (Øigarden) to assure his client’s rights, the prime minister’s efforts to get to the bottom of his government’s failures, and, most of all, the arduous journey of one teen Viljar (Gravli) and his family to heal from the life-altering event. Viljar, a golden boy who sustained severe gun trauma to his brain and limbs, appears to receive the lion’s share of the film’s attention, along with his brother (Aglen), who suffers silently from survivor’s guilt, and his distressed parents (Bock and Harr).
Perhaps because the film opens so cataclysmically and causes everything that follows to seem anticlimactic, or maybe because it uses a single individual to stand in for the country’s difficult struggle to recover, 22 July doesn’t seem as powerful as it might have been. Still, Greengrass’ film delivers a gut punch to any sense of public complacency.